(This is a recently published column I wrote for my local newspaper. It’s also the basis of an ‘Outdoor Rant’ that was featured on the DSO-34 podcast. It’s about my local area here but I know the same thing is happening elsewhere. Access to trails is something all outdoor enthusiasts should be concerned about. If you’re facing a similar situation contact my by email at email@example.com or leave a comment here.)
I was skiing along one of the local trails recently when I met another trail user going for a walk. We chatted about the weather and soon the conversation turned to the changing face of the backcountry this winter. We both commented how logging operations and the plowing of some roads have cut off access to some of our favorite trails. On parting the walker suggested that if this continues we may soon have to drive to Rockwood Park in the city to get access to the outdoors. Those comments have remained with me as I’ve explored more of our informal trail network in the Grand Bay-Westfield area. Given what I’ve seen so far this winter, I fear there may be some truth to those comments.
The clear cutting is everywhere. Trees are being downed right to the edge of long time back county trails and roads that have been used by people for generations. The logging equipment and trucks are tearing up the roads, making it impossible to ski on and difficult and even dangerous in places to walk. I haven’t heard complaints from ATVers and snowmobilers but I’m sure the cutting is having an impact on their enjoyment of the outdoors as well.
A major cutting operation is underway over at the four corners by the ball fields at the end of the Britain Road. The forest on both sides of the trail is leveled for a considerable way. By the old Grand Bay dump and off the Mitchell Road a new logging road extends far into the forest. The old ski trails behind the Westfield Golf Course are long gone, swallowed up in clear cuts that now extend toward the highway. This isn’t a new cut but I was skiing there the other day and lamenting over the loss of that trail system. It was the only wooded trail actually made for non-motorized use in this area. One of the most popular trails around here is what some call the Backland Road beside the Golf Course. It has also seen a lot of cutting this fall and the loggers have kept the road plowed through the early part of the winter. Plowing of course makes it almost impossible to ski. Further along the trail just past the Spencer’s Camp property, a new road has been cut through the woods. It doesn’t look like your typical logging road because it’s considerably wide. The most troubling aspect of this road is that it cuts right across the existing trail to Loch Alva. Hikers, skiers and snowmobiles have used this trail for many years. The new road chops it in half and blocks it entirely with an eight-foot ditch across the trail. ATVs and snowmobiles now have to detour to Spencer’s camp to get back on the trail. Skiers and hikers can still take the old trail but must negotiate this huge ditch to get through. It doesn’t seem right that a road can be built right across an existing trail like that. My skiing companions and I have explored that new road. It continues for some way and actually has two branches. I don’t know who built it or why but I don’t think it’s a logging road. My guess is it’s for a new subdivision sometime in the future. Either way, someone went to a lot of trouble and expense to build a road that right now goes nowhere.
During our explorations of the area we discovered evidence of some peoples total disrespect for other peoples property and for the environment. I hadn’t visited Spencer’s camp for years but the place is in ruin. Some thoughtless people went through the property and broke every window in every building. Windows and doors were forced open and ripped off the hinges. Nothing escaped the vandalism. Whoever is responsible for this had to work hard to inflict that kind of destruction. What a wasted effort.
It’s also sad seeing all the garbage left around in the outdoors. Out by Belvedere Lake we came upon a spot littered with empty beer cans and bottles. They had just been tossed and left there. This was at a trail intersection and the evidence points to thoughtless snowmobilers or four-wheelers. I can’t understand why people would do that. I know most hikers or skiers would never even consider leaving their garbage strewn about like that.
So even though the skiing was great, these incidents took away a little from the enjoyment of the outdoors. Given what I’ve seen so far this winter, especially in relation to clear cutting and trail access, perhaps it’s time to consider some kind of trail plan for the Grand Bay-Westfield area. We’re blessed here with a backyard full of some of the most beautiful country you’ll find anywhere. But that access and the woods themselves are disappearing quickly. Maybe we need a designated trail system and some kind of protected area. We should at least start thinking about it because more and more, access to outdoor recreation plays a significant part in attracting and keeping people in a community. It really would be a shame if we had to travel to the city to enjoy the outdoors.