Standing in the middle of an unfinished equestrian trail near Golden Ears Provincial Park on a beautiful sunny morning, Dave Smith can’t stop smiling from ear to ear – and it’s not because of the nice weather.
He’s proudly showing off his latest project to rebuild an old horse-riding trail – but that’s not the only thing he’s happy about.
The longtime member of the Haney Horsemen Association is elated about major changes for the club and says “it’s about time.”
Maple Ridge is the B.C. leader in suburban horse trails thanks to the 31-year-old association filled with die-hard wranglers who’ve carved out a 70-kilometre network of trails for horseback riders.
But concerns about liability and insurance had the club thinking of reining in its trail-building and maintenance that it does for the District of Maple Ridge on a fee-for-service basis.
“Members of the HHA are feeling fairly stressed in terms of the amount of work that goes on with building these trails and there’s also the liability concerns,” Smith, who’s been with the HHA since it’s inception in 1980, said.
“We felt that we would like to re-work an agreement with the municipality.”
According to David Boag, director of parks and facilities for Maple Ridge, the district staff and the HHA are close to creating an association agreement, a format he says has proven effective in the past,
“If approved by the Parks and Leisure Services Commission, the parties would continue to work together at a high level of engagement to determine priorities for maintenance and renovations of existing trails,” Boag said.
“The difference in the future will be that the HHA would no longer be administering the inspections, work parties or have the burden of dealing with liability insurance issues, which is a major concern for this particular volunteer group.”
“This new direction is considered to be a very positive opportunity for both district staff and the HHA,” Boag added.
“Suffice to say, the equestrian community has created a great asset to the community with the vast network of trails that exist today and they would very much like to continue to be a part of the ongoing management and care of them in the future.”
The HHA are currently working on wrapping up their last fee-for-service project. The completion of the Mill Creek trail, which cost $30,000, is slated for labour day weekend in September.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed that it gets done in time. In some ways, like many, I’m relieved that this agreement is over because I do feel the pressure from the HHA members,” Smith said. “There’s an awful lot of us who do this because we love it and it would be nice to have everyone work towards one common goal with a unified voice and a larger partnership coming from the municipality.”
“I’m really happy the municipality is stepping into their riding boots, putting on their gloves and being willing to take on what volunteers have been doing for over 31 years. We’re a very horse-minded community in a lot of ways and we would like to make sure we keep it that way.”
Smith says the time for change is now and would like to see a more assertive role from the district.
“There’s a larger base of recreational enthusiasts who get on these trails and there’s a potential threat for friction, stress, damage or somebody getting hurt.
“We’ve had instances were people drive onto these trails and get their vehicles stuck. Members feel it’s unfair to be responsible for municipal trails on municipal land when we don’t have the ability to enforce the law. We don’t want to potentially lose our homes and our livelihoods if something silly happens,” he added.
Smith says he’s been lobbying for an equestrian coordinator to be included on municipal staff for years and hopes the city will soon hear his plea.
“It’d be really nice to have someone who could assist with activities at the fairgrounds, assist with scheduling and coordinate volunteers for trail work,” he said. “It would free up the volunteers. That’s something we really want. We want the city to be responsible for providing leadership and making decisions to help us.”
Both parties have been meeting regularly over the past few months to figure out how to improve the fee-for-service contract and to explore other alternative agreements, with the latest meeting taking place last week.