Niagara at Large, Published November 8, 2021
A Commentary on Plans to Construct a Mountain Bike Racecourse for the 2022 Canada Summer Games in the Riverview ravine portion of the Twelve Mile Creek valley in St. Catharines, Ontario
Commentary submitted to by St. Catharines residents Helen Staal and Peter Ramm
We recently learned that the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) started a review of the 2022 Canada Summer Games mountain bike racecourse.
The NPCA stated that it was not previously aware of the construction of this course, that work had been done without a required permit, and that new trails had been cut in areas where there were no existing ones.
As local residents for almost 30 years, we are familiar with the area where this course is being built and with the environmental destruction that is occurring. We have followed many of the online conversations from those who are opposed or in favour of the course. We would like to raise some information that is sometimes overlooked.
The fragile area in the Riverview ravine is only a small part of the Twelve Mile Creek valley land. However, it is rich in unique and beneficial wildlife and vegetation (including many protected species), and is an important part of the ecology of the greenbelt that runs through the City of St. Catharines and into the Niagara Escarpment.
This type of woodland ravine is recognized as a valuable resource and therefore has many environmental protections (e.g. Significant Woodland designation under the City of St. Catharines Official Plan; regulation by NPCA).
The City’s Urban Forestry Management Plan recognizes that the trees in ravines are a critically important part of the urban forest, providing extensive health, economical, and environmental benefits. The Riverview ravine is not the same as it was many years ago. However, the parts of it that are still primarily unused retain more of an indigenous ecosystem than the parts that are heavily used. We need to respect the balance between unfrequented areas of nature and heavily travelled areas.
Opening up new areas to exploitation can disturb the balance in ways that have proven to be destructive in other ravines. The situation is particularly serious with mountain bike trails because of the tendency for users to add unauthorized trails, which further degrade the ravine.
Recreational trails are very beneficial, but not in all areas. The sensitive ecosystem of a forested ravine can only accommodate a limited number of trails, and a limited number of people. Ravines are fragile and require conservation. Otherwise, opening up new trails may destroy the very thing that is attractive to recreational users (green space with large trees, other vegetation and wildlife). This type of loss is not easily reversed.
Building and using new trails results in a fundamental change to the local ecology . The building process removes important vegetation (including seedlings, which affects the next generation of tree saplings), disturbs and exposes more soil, increases the area with no groundcover, exposes tree roots, destroys valuable wildlife habitat, and changes water flow.
The negative effects of this on the Riverview ravine would include: loss of wildlife, reduced tree canopy, spread of invasive plants out-competing native plants, increased erosion from heavier rains (perhaps associated with climate change), increase in slope instability, unh ealthy deposits into Twelve Mile Creek due to soil displacement and reduced filtering of storm water, and reduction in biodiversity.
We agree that trail maintenance is a good thing, but we do not believe that trails should be everywhere. Trail maintenance does not solve the problems with new trails if we destroy an ecosystem by building them. It is not a competition between recreational trail systems and unused areas – at least it shouldn’t be. There is plenty of room for both. We are fortunate to have so many recreational trails in the Niagara region.
Why do we need to exploit this area of valuable forest on the Riverview ravine slopes? There is an abundance of trails elsewhere and providing a racecourse for a small group of mountain bike competitors is not a sufficient reason.
How many trails (and of which type) should exist in this ravine?
Answering this question requires a detailed investigation and environmental assessment, with the input of all interested parties. It requires formal commitment from stakeholders to maintain trails into the future.
None of these requirements have been met for the racecourse. This is a problem that will have consequences for all ravine areas along the Twelve Mile Creek and for the community at large.