12 Mile Creek trail upgraded
Check out 12 Mile Creek at the bottom of Hydro Hill any Saturday morning and there is a good chance you will run into a group of volunteers from the Niagara Trail Maintenance Association (NTMA).
The NTMA are a group of more than 70 volunteers who have spent most Saturday mornings since the long weekend of August developing and maintaining a trail that will be used for the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games mountain bike competition.
Led by the Games’ mountain bike sport lead and NTMA chairman Tim Breadman, this dedicated crew of volunteers have put in close to 1,000 hours of work on the mountain bike course to the point it is about 80 per cent complete for next summer’s event.
“There are trails everywhere in this area and we would like to see this trail improved for use as a mountain bike course,” Breadman said. “What we have here is something that people that want to train and compete at a higher level can ride with these features and other improvements that we’re putting into this trail.”
There will be three mountain bike (MTB) competitions during the 2022 Canada Summer Games: a cross-country event (male/female), a sprint event (male/female), and a relay event (male/female). Six athletes (three male and three female) under the age of 22 will represent each of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories and will compete over five days to earn the right to be a Canada Games champion.
Per Cycling Canada’s technical standards for the Canada Games, the MTB course should ideally be a four- to six-kilometre loop with a mix of hills, descents, corners, and flat stretches. The course also requires about a 200-metre elevation, and its surface should be a mix of pavement, gravel, grass and dirt.
Breadman and his crew have been extremely careful to meet those technical standards without damaging any existing trees and while minimizing any disruption to the existing habitat. The NTMA’s work on this project has included the clearing and clean-up of the trail (about 1.5 to 2 feet wide) to be used for the mountain bike course, the construction and replacement of existing features, and the addition of some new ones — all of which has been authorized by a permit from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).
“We have not removed any trees because you want those to be part of the course,” Breadman said. “Trees are great. The root system helps control erosion and they provide shade for the competitors and other trail users.”
The NTMA is a registered Canadian affiliate of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and has adhered to their guidelines regarding the sustainable and environmentally responsible development of trails.
“It’s all about sustainability,” said Paul (Digger) Humber of Port Robinson, who has extensive trail design experience. “It comes from years ago when I was involved with a different mountain bike club and we ended up asking IMBA — they had what’s called a trail care crew — two professional trail builders who travelled the country and taught people how to build sustainable trails.”
Humber said the IMBA trail care crew came to Shorthills Park for a week in 2012 and helped them re-route a trail there.
“We were able to re-route that and it was very successful,” Humber said. “That is where I got my experience.”
Ever since that time, Humber has been involved in trail building and riding.
“I really love the design portion of it, how to properly build on slopes and keep the water from eroding.”
Breadman is also grateful for the cooperation of the community.
“We’ve been able to assemble trail maintenance people from all different groups in Niagara, not just one group,” he said. “We’ve come together to make this association. We’ve got the best of the best in this area”.
“It’s great that we have been able to bring the community together to work on this course.”
Niagara 2022 Board Chair Doug Hamilton feels the project is a prime example of how important volunteers are to the success of the Games.
“The Canada Games are a volunteer-organized, and volunteer-delivered event,” Hamilton said. “The legacy of the Games is critical — it’s what we leave after the Games – and it’s not just the legacy of facilities, but the legacy of volunteerism.”
St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik is a frequent user of the trails and has also been impressed with both the work done so far as well as the efforts of the NTMA.
“I’ve had an opportunity to walk the trail and it’s impressive to see the layout that has been designed,” Sendzik said. “When you think of the Canada Games, you think of the athletes that come out of the Games and the importance of the volunteers to their success. When you see all of you out here, it really does enforce that sport is driven by volunteerism.”
“This trail is a legacy piece that I hope future generations will be able to learn and embrace the sport of mountain biking. What you have created here is another trail system that can be enjoyed by cycling enthusiasts and others while also appreciating nature.”
Sendzik also feels the legacy that will remain after the Games is perhaps the most important feature of the trail.
“When you think about Niagara getting the Canada Games back in 2017, you realize how important this was for our community,” he said. “You see the new Canada Games Park facility up at Brock and that is going to be a game-changer for the entire Niagara Region. From that, you start to better understand all of the legacy pieces that come out of the Canada Games. Walking this trail, it really gave me a foundation for another legacy piece that is being designed by volunteers.”
Sendzik said the current COVID pandemic has cast a spotlight on the importance of the environment.
“My belief is the more we bring people into nature and the natural environment, the better appreciation we’re going to have for all that surrounds us. The last 20 months of this pandemic has taught us that we have to appreciate the environment more than we have.”
“This has been a mental outlet for a lot of people, going into our parks and trails, and we really need to focus on protecting this.”
Moving forward, the plan is for a Recreational Trail Use Master Agreement between the City of St. Catharines and the landowner Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
In January 2021, the City of St. Catharines advised OPG that it was committed to negotiate such a Recreational Trail Use Master Agreement for the extensive trail system along 12 Mile Creek, including this new mountain bike course. The City of St. Catharines also advised OPG that it fully supported the Niagara Host Society acting as project manager in the development of this mountain bike course.
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