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Is New Westminster on the right path creating a bike skills area in Queen’s Park?

Some residents concerned the project will impact restoration efforts that are happening in the park
Bike - Getty by Andrija Nikolic
Mountain bikers will have a local circuit to ride once a bike skills park is built in Queen's Park.

Some New West residents are urging the city to put the brakes on construction of a bike skills area in Queen’s Park, but the city is standing by its plan.

In July, city council approved a staff recommendation to build a new bike skills facility in Queen’s Park, in an area near the city’s tree nursery. After cyclists built their own bike jump features in Queen’s Park in 2020, staff removed the jumps as they weren’t considered suitable for public use and would negatively impact the ongoing ecological restoration in that forested area.

Instead, staff began collaborating with local youths to come up with a better location and design for a bike skill area in Queen’s Park.

But that decision isn’t sitting well with some residents.

Lawrence Reason and Karl Sturmanis appeared as delegations at the Aug. 30 council meeting to ask the city to reconsider the plan and to seek public input before any further development occurs in forested areas in Queen’s Park.

“This is a wonderful area,” Reason said. “It’s just a gem of a success story of an ecological restoration within New Westminster’s Queen’s Park.”

Reason said a sanctioned cycling event that had been held in Queen’s Park in the past caused significant damage to the natural environment. After those events were held, he said other cyclists began “ripping apart” the forested area to build jumps, which turned that area of the park into a “moonscape” and ruined years of work that had been done to reforest that part of the park.

“I don’t know why we are rewarding their vandalism here,” he told council. “I have seen a small group of stakeholders, a handful of stakeholders in Queen’s Park, that seem to have destroyed a significant part of the park and have been rewarded with that by being given a new part of the park and have been rewarded with that by being given a new part of the park and about $65,000 in which to spend building what they were building before with their own money.  I always thought that we should have maybe given them a stern warning and put up some fines.”

Karl Sturmanis said he spent his childhood exploring the forested areas and the cattail swamp that existed in Queen’s Park and enjoying recreational activities in the park.

Having been in communication with city staff about the “negative impacts” from cycling events in the park, Sturmanis said he was “surprised and puzzled” when he received an email from New Westminster Environmental Partners informing him that council had approved a bike skills space in Queen’s Park. He said it appears the city made a judgment call to engage exclusively with youth, even though there are “hundreds” of people who value the passive experience of Queen’s Park in a natural setting.

Sturmanis said more people have been enjoying natural spaces during the pandemic, and he thinks that’s going to be a growing trend in the future. He’s concerned about incrementally addressing specific recreation needs within the park at the expense of the natural world.

“I value it like a jewel,” he said. “It’s like a natural world in microcosm that should be regarded as a precious resource.”

Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks and recreation, confirmed there have been some challenges in the wooded areas in Queen’s Park, with some of it coming from cyclists who have been using some areas of the park for purposes for which those areas weren’t designed or intended. He added that drought-like conditions in recent years have added further stress to certain areas of the park.

“There was an informal but small ad-hoc group of individuals that were using the wooded area of the park and creating their own, if you will, ad-hoc bike park,” he said. “At the time that we became aware of that and were able to connect with the individuals that were involved and engage with them around some of the measures that it might take to help them adjust their practices within the park. That subsequently led to conversations about where we might be able to relocate that activity in more of an organized and managed fashion.”

The July 12 staff report stated the city’s financial plan allows for $65,000 for the construction of a gravel trail base and up to 10 bike skills features.

According to Gibson, the Queen’s Park master plan, which was a long-range vision for the potential of the park, determined that Queen’s Park has the potential to serve a variety of interests and needs, both in terms of its preservation of the natural habitat in selected zones as well as supporting active, organized recreation.

Gibson said staff worked with bike users to relocate them from a zone of the park that was identified in the master plan as “forest” into a zone that is characterized as “forest recreation” and anticipated a variety of uses.

“We have many demands on on our park spaces throughout the city as a whole,” he said. “Again, this particular area within Queen’s Park was perhaps more optimally suited to support that type of use in a relatively small footprint as compared to other areas across the city.”

“A real opportunity”

Erika Mashig, the city’s manager of parks and open space planning, design and construction, said that rather than punishing the youth and adults who were responsible for building jumps in the park, the city decided to put up some signage in the park, to explain the restoration that’s taking place in these forested areas and to connect with them.

“It was a real opportunity to really speak to, particularly the youth about the growing trend and sport, and an opportunity also to speak to them about forest restoration and hopefully involve and integrate opportunities for forest stewardship with the construction of the bike features planned for that area of the park,” she said. “We saw it as a positive way forward, instead of continuing to remove jumps from portions of the park where restoration is underway.”

Mashig said the city plans to install the seven bike features and the gravel path that will connect them at the end of September or early October.  

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr supports the city’s plan.

“I think it’s better to tell them where to go, rather than to tell them where not to go,” he said.

Mayor Jonathan Cote said the staff recommendation struck a balance of protecting a sensitive area and finding a less sensitive area for an activity that’s growing in demand. He said natural spaces are limited in a built-out community like New Westminster, but they’re very important.

“I think that is always going to be a dynamic and a challenge that we have in a growing community, a community with new and emerging needs,” he said. “But I do think our natural spaces do need to be protected. We kind of went through this process of trying to remove the bikers from an area that clearly was not appropriate and in area that staff are quite interested in restoring and bringing back.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus