Award winning mountain bike partnership

Mountain bikers in Smithers are preparing to enjoy another season of well-developed trails, thanks to the efforts of the volunteer Smithers Mountain Bike Assocation, with help from Kevin Eskelin from the local office of Recreation Site and Trails B.C.

In fact, Eskelin’s partnership with both the SMBA and the Burns Lake Mountain Bike Association has resulted in a B.C. Premier’s Award for Innovation. He said it started with the Province acknowledging mountain biking as a growing sport in B.C., and enacting an official policy to legitimize trails and help local groups develop areas purpose-built for bikes.

“We’re all looking for a common goal,” he said.

Katie von Gaza, who handles communications for the SMBA, pointed out the incredible growth the group has accomplished in just two full years of existence. From a start in 2009, membership began with 170. In 2010, the group kept most members, with just under 150.

Between the first two years of trail building, two official Recreation Sites are now legalized, with another on the way. Roughly $400,000 of funding from the federal and provincial governments, the Wetzwinka Community Forest, local sponsors, donations and memberships created about 60 months of employment for 17 people, who built just under 20 km of new trails over the two years. That’s in addition to trails that already existed, which have been reworked where necessary to conform to both International Mountain Bike Association and Whistler Trail Standards.

The executive began work on a five year plan immediately after forming the Association, said Trails Director Jeremy Roscoe. At the same time, grants put in place by federal and provincial governments to deal with the recession were just becoming available. Those included the Western Economic Diversification Canada – Community Adjustment Fund, and the Community Development Trust – Job Opportunities Program.

“The timing was really good,” said Roscoe. “The main challenge was administering the money.”

Eskelin agreed that the timing of the SMBA starting up was impeccable.

“We really benefited from the federal stimulus package, and related provincial funding,” he said.

Eskelin described his role as more of a supporter of the Associations’ work.

“I’m the guy that stands in the background and enables them to do this,” he said.

Aside from the Premier’s Award, the trails in Smithers, as well as some in Burns Lake, Terrace and Vanderhoof have featured on the television show Ride Guide, and in feature articles on Pinkbike.com, one of the largest mountain bike websites online. The next step for the Association and Eskelin will be pushing the trails here, and across the northwest, as a tourist attraction worth a visit for serious mountain bikers.

“The relative amenity value of those trails is increasing,” said Eskelin. “It just so happens that Burns Lake and Smithers are ahead of most other smaller rural communities.”

In the meantime, local riders can look forward to a summer of events and races on the trails in town. The end of May will feature C.O.B.’s Upchuck, and McBike’s Freeride Clinic takes place the first weekend in June. There are also downhill races sponsored by each shop in July and September.

The SMBA also have their first trail map ready to go.

Check in on the website progress and trail info at www.smithersmountainbike.ca.