The trails were carved into Maple Ridge’s mountainsides and rainforests over decades, the result of hundreds of hours of labour, out of love, by the Haney Horsemen.
Those quiet pathways now total more than 300 kilometres, winding throughout the hills and suburbs, blending an ancient world with the new and differentiating Maple Ridge from the rest of hectic Metro Vancouver.
Dianne Stoesz wants it to stay that way, but she’s worried.
Steady suburban expansion and a procession of newcomers to Maple Ridge is threatening its equine heritage.
“We want the community to know, like the new people – that this is a horse community,” she said Wednesday.
“It just seems that the new people in the community don’t realize that these new trails, these lovely new trails that they have in their back yard, are because of the last 25 years of the Haney Horsemen.”
Stoesz said some people don’t want horses in their area, and don’t like dealing with the droppings, and don’t know how to get around a horse to avoid spooking it.
And previously, if a horse trail had to be removed to allow for housing or roads, developers would have to put up a deposit that only would be refunded by the District of Maple Ridge if an alternate trail was built.
“Well, that’s not happening so much anymore.”
Stoez said trails, or portions thereof that have been lost recently, include Larch Trail, near 136th Avenue, Maple Ridge Trail, Abernethy Trail, Shull, Toilet Trail, Neilson, Molly Buckerfields, the sidepass from Ravine Trail to Kanaka Creek Regional Park, Wildlife Trail, “and all of Blue Mountain-McNutt [Avenue] area.”
A recent parks and recreation trail guide of Maple Ridge also riled the riders.
On that, only a few trails are labelled “horses allowed,” leaving the impression that horses aren’t allowed on the other trails.
“We’re wondering if the community has lost sight that we’re a horse community and we’re wondering if parks and recreation still wants to support us as a horse community,” said Stoesz.
Since the end of the fee-for-service arrangement – in which the club maintained trails for a fee – with the district in 2011 (because of insurance concerns), the club’s influence also seems to have waned, she added.
But the club’s concerns are new to Maple Ridge’s parks and facilities director, Dave Boag.
He said it’s always been past practice to ensure that if a trail is moved to make room for roads or houses, that an alternate would be provided.
“I would have thought that would be unusual for a trail just to be taken out. The trail connection is important to the district. I’m just not sure where this is coming from.”
Boag said the Haney Horsemen have been working with the district in creating trails over many years.
He said the trail guide was the third such one issued by the district and was intended to combine bicycle, hiking and equestrian routes to show the public the range of trails available.
Mayor Ernie Daykin also said it’s the first he’s heard of such concerns.
“That’s a huge asset to the community.”
Most, but not all trails allow horses, and there is a range of multi-use trails, Daykin added.
The Horsemen fear they’ll lose their trails to other user groups, such as mountain bikers.
Boag wasn’t sure if Maple Ridge’s official community plan specified that a trail had to be replaced if it was removed to allow development.
Stoez said the club wants to work with the district and revamp the equestrian trail committee and highlighted in a letter to council the economic benefit of the horse community. That results from residents and boarders who own their own horses and spend locally on horse-related activities and goods.
“Take care of horse owners and they will drop most of their disposable income locally to support their hobby and lifestyle.”
Maple Ridge Equi-Sport Centre has developed an excellent reputation and recently opened a tack shop that’s also providing jobs, she added.
Events such as the Back Country Horsemen’s Rendez Vous will bring in more than 200 riders to the area, while horse riders now regularly use the Golden Ears Bridge to trailer their horses to Maple Ridge’s trails.
“Haney Horsemen have long been very proud that we are one of the few remaining communities where you can still ride from the barn to the trails and to destinations as wonderful as Golden Ears Provincial Park.”