Summer Closure Report - Paul McNabb

Posted by Brent Goddard on March 10, 2020 at 12:26:44 PM

For this article I talked to Ross Maley, Kaiteriteri Moutain Bike Park (KMBP) manager, Chris Mildon, Silvan Forest representative and Mel Schroder, Nelson Mountain Bike Club president, about the fire risk closures we experienced this summer. The mechanism to close was via something called a fire preparedness meeting that was run by FENZ and attended by council, contractors (NELMAC etc), Federated Farmers, DOC, landowners and others (like Mel). Despite the same advice, this year Silvan and KMBP both closed for significantly shorter times than the rest of our trails.

As a result of these fire preparedness meetings, most landowners restricted access to recreational users (mountain bikers) from early February. Yet, Silvan only closed for 5 days near the end of the ban and KMBP closed only 5 tracks that descend off the forestry roads.

 I should be clear at this point that the reason for the closure was to protect mountain bikers from the risk of being harmed by a fire.

In the case of the KMBP, the top tracks that were closed can be accessed through the plantation forest off Marahau Hill and once that forest is closed then these also have to close. For the KMBP the closure decisions are made by the CEO and Ross.

In the case of Silvan, the advice from FENZ via the fire preparedness meeting was to close. However, the landowner was willing to listen to Chris’s advice to stay open. So my question to Chris was, why bother? Perhaps the answer wasn’t as easy to find as you might expect, but in the end Chris was able to come up with something fairly reasonable—he wanted to stay open, which doesn’t sound overly convincing, however he further explained that he wanted to demonstrate that allowing mountain biking, under the right conditions, could be done. In the end peer pressure became too much and Silvan also closed.

Mel pointed out that some areas had been very hard hit by the closures; one in particular is the Coppermine Trail. In my own mind I can think of so many historical closures that surely it’s got to the point where it’s more often closed than open.

Meanwhile out at Silvan and Kaiteriteri both parks noticed an increase in numbers during February. Chris commenting that there was a really social aspect to the riding because you were almost guaranteed to bump into someone you hadn’t seen in years. Kind of begs the question as to whether we might have too much riding.

I was keen to know about how these guys manage the obvious conflict between being a mountain bike park (or gold standard trail destination) and fire risk. Obviously there is some tension there, but then I also started to have questions about risk and harm. Risk is the product of the consequence of something unwanted happened (e.g., being killed by fire) and the probability of that happening. I think we can all see the problem with the first part of that equation. However, it becomes less clear when you try to understand the likelihood of it actually happening.

Finally, it leads to the obvious—what about all the other risks you are exposed to by mountain biking, do we have the balance right here? I would be interested to know what others think and if there is anyone out there willing to write a follow up article, please get in touch if you are.