Special to the Record
When the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) met to discuss upgrades to the 642-hectare Seal Bay Nature Park earlier this year, they invited all park users to provide input on the enhancements.
Park user safety, environmental stewardship and ease of access were all part of the master plan.
The most noticeable result of the public meetings and community collaboration between the CVRD and walkers, cyclists, runners and horseback riders is a newly expanded parking lot at 2201 Hardy Rd.
It has room to accommodate up to 62 vehicles, and three truck and horse trailer units.
There are also new picnic benches, a pit toilet, a horse manure containment area and even hitching rails. There were also many upgrades to the existing trail network, and the ‘horse and bike’ loop was rerouted, moving equestrians a safer distance from the busy traffic on Bates Road.
The 70-plus members of the North Vancouver Island chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of BC (BCHBC-NVI) was one of the organizations that attended the information meetings.
“Our members were eager to provide input on the park enhancements because we are committed to the maintenance and development of all multi-use recreational trails in our region,” explains BCHBC member and CVRD liaison, Sharon Pickthorne.
“In addition to giving feedback, we also regularly provide the regional district with volunteers to help construct and maintain trails. Our volunteers do everything from flagging routes, to trimming back overgrown vegetation, operating machinery, compacting gravel, and directing foot traffic around trail builders during work bees. In the last couple of years, about 30 BCHBC members have volunteered over 160 hours in Seal Bay Park alone.”
Ron Crowther, president of the Comox Valley Road Runners, says that his organization – representing about 260-plus members – also welcomed (and appreciated) the opportunity to provide input on this treasured wildlife habitat and trail network.
“Contrary to our name, we don’t really run on the roads that often,” says Crowther with a smile. “We prefer to get our exercise in the many multi-use recreational areas, like Seal Bay Park. Running on trails like those at Seal Bay provides softer footing and a more technical workout that involves the whole body. Not having to watch for vehicular traffic makes it more relaxing, too.”
While both organizations are thrilled about the park enhancements, they remind all park users that there is basic trail etiquette that should be followed, to ensure safety for all.
Those traveling by foot or bicycle must always yield to horses. If possible, approach horses head-on, and don’t step off the trail where you may be hidden in the bush or in the shadows. (The horse will think you are a predator.) If a rider is struggling with a frightened horse, removing your bike helmet and speaking in a relaxed tone may be of assistance. Listen for any suggestions from the rider.
If you are approaching horses from behind, slow down and stay well behind the horse. Call out to the rider and never assume that it is safe to ride or walk by. The rider will likely want to turn their horse to face you and will advise you when you may safely continue past them, at a slow speed, while walking your bike and slowing your run/jog to a walk.
New and improved trail signage that should be installed soon will help ensure that horseback riders and cyclists stay on their designated 10-kilometre loop and away from pedestrian-only footpaths. This reduces the risk of rider/walker encounters and mitigates the issue of horse manure on pedestrian-only trails.