Poised in front of the Ucluelet Brewery, the newly minted Ucluelet Mountain Bike Association board of directors, from left, Louis Maddiford, Nick Holatko, Travis Wade, James Inkster, and Markus Rannala are excited to see the wheels turning on a proposed new trail network. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Ucluelet mountain bike non-profit takes flight

Vision for Ukee’s new trail system focuses on fun, inclusive trails for all riding abilities

Ucluelet is positioning itself to drop in on British Columbia’s mountain bike scene with friendly, flowing trails through Bigfoot’s backyard.

In the spring of quarantine 2020, the group of local riders behind the once elusive Ucluelet Mountain Bike Association (UMBA) got serious: they incorporated as a non-profit, launched a website, opened a bank account, and secured an insurance policy.

“It seems like the timing is right for everything. It’s surprising how it’s all coming together,” said UMBA president Markus Rannala.

The vision for Ucluelet’s new trail system is to focus on fun, inclusive trails for all riding abilities, notes Rannala.

“In a nutshell, the huge surge in the popularity of mountain biking can largely be attributed to the evolution of trail building and the style of trail construction. It’s a far cry from the original extreme vertical descents, and the new style of trail focuses more on beginner friendly, flowing terrain that can be enjoyed by a wide-spectrum of skill and ability levels,” he said.

UMBA board member James Inkster said clearing all the dense brush is not going to be an easy feat, but the end game will be worth it.

“It will give tons of local riders opportunity to ride trails they are comfortable with. They won’t have to travel. And this is literally one of the only places in Canada that you can legitimately mountain bike year round,” said Inkster.

About 20 years ago, Ucluelet’s original mountain bike trail was built on the face of Mount Ozzard. The advanced trail didn’t have much use to the broader community and slowly went into disrepair. But over the last couple of years, there has been a huge push by local volunteers to re-build the Ozzard trail and add entirely new terrain to ride.

“The potential out here is incredible. The economic and community benefits of mountain biking have been well studied and well proven,” said Rannala, adding that Ucluelet has a unique opportunity to tap into a pre-existing tourist base to bring additional revenue to the region.

In 2016, the Western Mountain Bike Tourism Association released a report to determine the economic value of mountain biking in the Sea to Sky corridor (North Shore, Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton). Study results showed that over $70 million of non-resident spending was directly attributed to the mountain bike industry, and as an upshot visitor spending supported 687 full-time jobs.

“I’ve seen the overwhelming success and the huge community benefit that sanctioned trail systems have brought to dozens of other towns throughout B.C.,” said Rannala.

He said he would like to work towards the inclusion and involvement of Indigenous youth programming. In fact, one of UMBA’s mandates is “to build relationships that foster educational and recreational programming with surrounding communities and Indigenous organizations.”

“The development of local trail systems could be a fantastic opportunity for collaboration and involvement with Ucluelet First Nation and Toquaht Nation,” Rannala said.

UMBA recently submitted a comprehensive “Mountain Bike Trail Development Proposal” to the Barkley Community Forest board of directors with the hopes of working with them to fully realize the recreational potential of the area.

As it stands, Ucluelet’s handful of existing mountain bike trails are on Ucluelet First Nation Treaty Lands.

“Further development should only proceed with their development and consent,” said Rannala.



nora.omalley@westerlynews.ca

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