A jewel in Ottawa’s west: the Carlington Ski Hill

The Ottawa Mountain Bike Association‘s (OMBA) proposal to build a bike park on Carlington Ski Hill goes before the city’s Community and Protective Services Committee on Thursday September 15, 2016.

The first phrase of the proposal—building a dirt jump track on half of what I like to call the “plateau” (the smaller hill directly below the water reservoir)—appeared to have been a done deal before many residents even knew about it. I only heard about it when my husband was handed a flyer opposing the idea.  Note: I live in Westboro, almost on the dividing line between Carlington and Westboro, but my husband owns property in Carlington. I found no signs posted anywhere on the hill and I go there to walk and explore at least two or three times a week.

The pump track wouldn’t be such a bad idea if it were only that one small area of the plateau and the proposal had only one phase. But it isn’t. The OMBA proposal lists four projects, one of which is the pathway leading up from McBride and Lepage.  That particular part is home to numerous species of insects, birds, mammals, not to mention human edibles like black walnut trees, sumac, various leafy greens, and one of the largest raspberry patches I’ve ever found in this area. Hell, I nibbled on some lamb’s quarters as a trail snack just the other day.

The other proposal ideas include taking over the rest of the plateau—which will undoubtedly lead to encounters between cyclists and walkers—various trails through the woods that surround the hill, and a “flow trail” that takes over half of the slope leading up to the plateau from the baseball grounds. Basically, more than half of the hill would be taken over by mountain bike “infrastructure”, infrastructure I might add that is only useful for part of the year but which will impact year-round users.

Photo from the OMBA proposal.

Photo of all four potentially impacted areas from the OMBA proposal. The plateau below the water reservoir is shown in blue and green. 

Photo of a dirt jump design from the OMBA Carlington Bike Park proposal.

Photo of a dirt jump design from the OMBA Carlington Bike Park proposal.

Yes, I’m a curmudgeon. No, I don’t always like change. But building a bike park on the Carlington Ski Hill has ramifications for even those who embrace change with all their heart. To build a pump track, all plant life has to be removed, other than on the edges. Bikes will then pound on the soil, compacting it, and when a big rain storm comes, and they will, there will be nothing to stop the erosion.  I’ve already seen this happen to a far lesser extent in Hampton Park where teenagers have ridden their bikes through the woods, compacting the soil and potentially damaging tree root systems.  Nothing grows on that soil anymore.

Riley Brockington, councillor for the ward, says that Carlington needs more outdoor activities. One would think he’s never been there. Carlington Ski Hill is already a major draw for joggers, walkers and dog walkers, hikers, bikers, bird watchers, kite flyers, sledders and snowboarders. The hill also offers a living laboratory of plants and animals that could be used as part of a school curriculum. The hill connects to the NCC Experimental Farm pathway to the south. There is no shortage of outdoor activities. Mountain biking is only one such activity and really, one that only a small percentage of people actually do.

I’m a cyclist and I know that the OMBA has done good work. Unfortunately, I do not believe that this is one of those times. If Phase I goes forward, I don’t hold out much hope that the city will have the backbone to say no to the other three. And when and if that happens, a jewel in our city will disappear.

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