SORCA : A History
From little things, big things grow.
Just over 20 years ago myself and 18 or so other people founded SORCA. In the early days, we used to get together a couple of times a week to work on building some trails. Sunday mornings were set aside for quick meetings over coffee and then off for a group ride. How things have changed over time; now we have bi weekly social rides along with downhill races followed by backyard gatherings of upwards of 60-80 people. We also have 6 or 7 official organized trail maintenance days per year and many other self-organized trail days by motivated SORCA volunteers.
A few years after SORCA’s inception we had the introduction of loonie races. These races were so low-key everybody that attended got, if nothing else, at least a box of mac and cheese. At this time we were still able to build or maintain trails on a weekly basis with no complaints. The loonie’s morphed into toonie’s and have grown into the biweekly events we know and love today.
Trail advocacy was a big part of SORCA’s role in the early days. In 1994, SORCA was at the table with BC Parks and came to agreement regarding the seasonal closure of the FourLakes trail. In 1999, SORCA, along with IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association), hosted the first provincial mountainbike summit. This summit was important from a trail advocacy perspective as it was one of the first times that government representatives, mountainbike clubs and trail builders were brought together to discuss trail access, as well as building and maintenance issues. The good folks at IMBA shared their knowledge on how to develop sustainable trails. This resulted in the construction of IMBA Smart which was given official recognition by the provincial government via Section 102 approval and became the second legal trail in addition to the Powerhouse Plunge to be built in the valley.
Well some of us still longed for the simple days of mac and cheese and Sunday morning coffee meetings, we recognized things were changing. Thus we entered the 21st century which brought on a new set of challenges. In 2003, SORCA led the charge to “Save the Plunge” from being totally clear cut. By being present at the table to raise concerns of the local mountainbike community, SORCA was able to come to an agreement with BC Timber Sales. This resulted in securing a buffer between the trail and the clear cuts on either side of the trail which helped retain most of the characteristics of a forested trail.
Over the next few years, more land developers took notice of Squamish and their proposals began to impact the ever growing trail network. Several of us on the SORCA executive began to spend more and more of our free time in meetings with developers. Even though we had no authority to make agreements regarding the existing trails as most of them did not exist in the eyes of the provincial government we did our best to work out informal agreements with these private landowners. SORCA , along with the Squamish Trails Society, began advocating for a trail coordinator position with the District of Squamish. Once this became a reality and this new position took a large load off of our plates.
In 2005 members of the SORCA executive created the Squamish Mountain Bike Master Plan which became a guiding document for mountain biking in Squamish. It is part of Squamish’s Official Community Plan and is available for viewing at both city hall and the library. It is quite an important document when looking at the trail network here in the valley. Many of the facets of this plan were incorporated in the District of Squamish`s Trail Master Plan as well.
In the mid 2000’s the District of Squamish and the Province of B.C. decided that mountain biking could be an economic generator and that the local clubs should carry the weight of all things related to trails. The Province changed its process in relation to trails and how permission was to be sought in the construction of new trails and a new formalized trail approval process was in the works. While SORCA did not agree with some of the early parts of this emerging formalization, especially regarding the downloading liability for local trails on local mountainbike clubs, we realized the importance of being at the table to participate in these discussions.
In 2008, the Province set forth the new rules for the development and management of trails with the development of the BC Provincial Trail Strategy. This document laid out a new formalized process to have existing trails and future trials recognized by the provincial government. In the Fall of that year, approximately 20 people representing both motorized and non-motorized trail users attended a workshop at the forestry office in Squamish to discuss how the new Trail Strategy would impact local trails. The gist of the meeting was to introduce trail users to the new process for getting trails authorized on crown land from this day forward. Participants were introduced to Sections 56 and 57 of the Forest Practices Act which provide authorization and some protection for existing and future trails.
Here is a summary of sections 56 and 57:
Recreation Sites and Trails is the Branch within the Provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations responsible for trails on provincial Crown land outside of Provincial Parks and protected areas. Recreation Sites and Trails manages trails within the legislation and regulation of the Forest and Range Practices Act, specifically sections 56, 57, 58 and 118.
Section 56 allows the minister or delegate (which in our case is the Assistant Deputy Minister) the ability to designate a trail as a legally recognized ‘recreation trail’ under the Act. A legal map is created and the trail is added to the provincial land data base. A trail designated under section 56 does not by itself establish rules for any type of use or authorize anyone to do any work on the trail. A trail that is designated under section 56 is managed by the Province according to the Forest Recreation Regulation.
Section 57 allows the minister or delegate (in our case is the District Recreation Officer) to authorize an individual or organization to construct, rehabilitate or maintain a trail on Crown land. The authorization is granted to an individual or an organization and does not grant any land status to the trail. A trail constructed with authorization does not have any legal status (by definition is not a ‘recreation trail’ according to the Act) unless or until it is ‘designated’ under section 56.
Although the public often consider section 56 and 57 to be similar they are quite different. Section 56 establishes a recreation trail for use by the whole public. Applications and applicant instructions are available for authorization to construct, rehabilitate or maintain a trail on the Recreation Sites and Trail website: http://www.sitesandtrailsbc.ca/about/trail-or-facility-authorization.aspx
Proposals to establish recreation trails under section 56 or enter into partnership agreements under section 118 should be discussed with the District Recreation Officer. Section 57 is an authorization to do work. The authorization is limited to the specified individual (or organization) and does not grant any status to the trail. The trail is not formally managed by the Province and Recreation Sites and Trails staff do not have authority to manage use. (A big thank you to John Hawkings for the explanation)
The Province has now granted SORCA section 56 or section 57 status on a total of 26 trails in the valley. This in essence means that these trails have some status in the eyes of the province and are not just illegal trails as much of the trail network was pre 2007.
Here is where it get confusing if you are not already confused enough. The province can not grant section 56 or 57 status to a trail that starts on crown land then crosses onto private property and then either back onto crown land or ends. The private property owner has to provide permission for that trail to exist prior to the province granting a section 56 or 57 a trail. Squamish is a huge mixture of private, crown and first nations land. SORCA has been active in building relationships with private land owners so mountain bikers can recreate on these private lands.
Why does this process exist?
Ongoing disputes between other trail users (hikers, dirt biker), logging industry, and the MOF were causing a lot of frustration and animosity between these groups. By sitting down and agreeing to a set of land use rules, we sidestep disputes and work to compromises that everyone can live with. In fact, the relationship and trail use agreement between SORCA and the SDBA is highlighted by Recreation Officers around the province as a shining example of cooperation and co-existence. We should be proud of this. In most areas, the motorized and non-motorized groups are always fighting.
So what happens when the process is not followed?
Disputes, disappointment, anger. We have seen this with a few trails in the last two years, most recently with SOT and Section 57. Once one group breaks the rules, the others feel justified in following suit. It erodes the trust we have built and our credibility in future negotiations. So, we ask that our trail builders work within the process. It may require more work upfront, but the benefits long term to the greater mountain biking community are huge.
Our relationship with private landowners and logging companies:
A lot of the land our trails exist forested land owned by private land owners, the crown, or the Squamish Nation. We do not have any control over its use and do not have any authority to demand access or limit logging. We have understood that by sitting down with the landowners, by building relationships or mutual respect, and by playing within the rules, we can reach agreements that everyone can live with. As an example, the recent logging above Alice Lake (Ed’s Bypass, Tracks from Hell) is taking place on private lands that have been owned by Merrill and Ring for close to 100 years. The landowners Merrill & Ring have been most willing to allow us to recreate on this land as well as other parcels they used to own with only one request: “when we come to log our land don’t bitch about it.” To me it was a pretty simple exchange for allowing us unfettered access to as large a land base as they have.
Since January of 2011 SORCA has been in receipt of over $100,000 for either trail maintenance or new trail construction from logging companies and the Ministry of Forests. SORCA is close to being in receipt of a further $42,000 to replace trails that will be logged on Diamondhead over the next 2-3 years as there are 3 large logging block planned for that area. All his money has been made available to SORCA because SORCA has been at the table and has been a cooperative partner in the process. As more and more people come here to recreate the trail system requires more and more maintenance and trails are going to change. The trail system that was built and maintained by vollies can no longer be sustained in this way, so alternate funding for hiring trail maintenance crews becomes essential (as well as giving us buffed trails to ride).
Hopefully this letter educates the biking community as to the role SORCA is playing. The “toonies” are what most people think of when they think SORCA. But, there is so much more going on behind the scenes. The advocacy work is a huge commitment. Through that work, we have seen the DOS, for the first time, committing to supporting trail maintenance with a $40,000 contribution this year and a promise to continue for future years. This money is funding the trail maintenance crew you see on the trails every day for the next 12 weeks over the summer.
SORCA has just signed a trail maintenance agreement with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. SORCA is now responsible for maintaining all mountainbike trails that have been given both section 56 and 57 within the valley. This agreement provides SORCA insurance (indemnification) as well as access to supplies and services from the Squamish Recreation Officer Alistair as they arise.
I also realize there are a lot people that do not know the history of SORCA and what it has and has not done but please rest assured that first and foremost in the minds of the SORCA exec has always been when faced with a decision regarding trails what is best for the mountain biking community. Sure there have been some unpopular decisions at times, but given the complexity of the respecting private, first nations and crown lands and doing this on 100% volunteer efforts, I feel SORCA has done an excellent job of managing Squamish’s trail network and putting on some very fun events.
It is amazing when I look at where we started and where we are today. So thank you to the countless individuals who have contributed in the process.
Remember: at one time we were simply a drinking club with a riding problem.
President of SORCA