Mountain bikers on the North Shore are upset after learning the District of North Vancouver plans to remove five teeter-totter obstacles from local trails.
The decision to remove the obstacles follows a recent Ontario court ruling that held a local government liable after a man broke his neck in a fall from a similar stunt at a skills park in 2008.
The district told the North Shore Mountain Biking Association (NSMBA) it will move to dismantle the obstacles between now and the end of the year.
The association said the decision, which sets a legal precedent for municipalities to oversee safety measures and own responsibility for accidents, shouldn’t apply to recreational trails.
“These are features of historical significance, and they’ve changed the sport globally,” NSMBA president Cooper Quinn said of the North Shore obstacles.
“Local riders aspire to ride these features, they’re great enjoyment to people young and old, and we have people travelling across the world to ride these trails and these features especially.”
The five obstacles are located on trails on Mount Fromme in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park.
Quinn says the obstacles led to the freeride mountain biking style that was born on the North Shore, soon spreading to other trails around the world.
The Ontario ruling held Bruce County responsible for not adequately warning Stephen Campbell of the risks associated with the teeter-totters at the Bruce Peninsula Mountain Bike Adventure Park.
Campbell has quadriplegia in the wake of the fall.
In 2016, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the initial ruling, which Quinn said has now made municipalities nervous about how to proceed with their own recreational programs.
“The district tells us this is a one-off and a unique situation, but we’re hearing a lot of concern from members that if we’re concerned about the danger of teeter-totters, what about the danger of rocks or trees?” Quinn asked.
Quinn said the association works closely with the district when building and maintaining trails, but the teeter-totters were installed at a time when no such process existed.
District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little said the decision in Ontario has forced his government to look closely at how it might be managing risk, and that more signage may not be enough.
“The simplest solution was to remove the teeter-totters,” he said, adding it’s unfortunate to have to dismantle pieces of history.
“Some of the pieces have been there for 30 years,” the mayor continued. “I’m a heritage guy and I would love to retain them for that, but we do have to manage the risk.”
Little said the district still supports the mountain biking community but had to adhere to the courts.
“We have to maintain it and make sure risks are known, and this case to ensure that risks are reduced.”
North Vancouver has seen its own share of tragedy on teeter-totters.
In 2013, a U.S. man suffered severe neck and head injuries after falling off one of the very obstacles set to be removed. He died at the scene.
Quinn said he’s hopeful the decision won’t lead to further crackdowns on the trails, where he says the challenge posed by obstacles is part of the appeal.
“The value with these features comes with a certain amount of risk,” he said. “All recreational users accept that risk when they step onto trails. We hope the district can understand that.”
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