EDITOR’S NOTE: Shirley Deugo shared this excellent post from Kristy Wood-Giles on how multi-use trails can work for all who frequent them. Kristy has kindly allowed me to share it here. She makes some very good points.

I want to share an opinion on an issue that I have seen over more than two decades in my career and in many aspects of my recreational interests. I believe I can offer a few different vantage points on the issues surrounding multi-use trails.

Let me start with my background.

I have managed over fifty parks and trails throughout my career.  I hiked and camped the Rideau Trail from Kingston to Ottawa and walked and biked the TransCanada Trail from the Quebec to Detroit border, by myself. I can confidently say I walk, run, bike, snowshoe or kayak almost every day.

But what you also need to know is that I have always been an avid snowmobiler and ATV rider as well as, on and off-road motorcycling, I see trail issues from every angle and can tell you three things for sure:

  1. Trail management is much more complicated than it looks from the outside because you are always trying to balance different interests with the surrounding natural environment as well as the financial resources to do it.
  2. Managing multi-use trails takes all of those challenges to a whole new level and can be some of the most conflict-ridden projects I have ever encountered.  
  3. But I believe multi-use trails to be among the greatest assets and resources for any community.

So I’ll share some stories with you to show the value in multi-use, and how with some effort and new perspective we can enjoy these great trails.

In all of my 30-40 years of hiking, running and walking on trails I have never had a motorized vehicle speed past me in a disrespectful manner. Everyone has slowed to some degree (no exception) but sure, improvements could always be made.

If I am walking, my practice is to move to the side and look back, so that the driver knows that I am aware they are coming.

Respect goes both ways.

I have many stories of different users assisting others along the way. For example, the man who travelled from France to hike across Canada on the Great Trail never expected to hurt his ankle so badly that he could barely walk. But when he did, he was quickly assisted by the first ATV passing by and taken for help with the injury, food and overnight camping.

One summer I hiked a solid 28 days, all day long. There was never a hot day that a vehicle didn’t stop to either check if I was okay or if I needed water.  I have met so many incredible people using the trails. At a minimum, there was usually a wave or nod “hello”.

There is something to cherish in every type of experience I have had on these trails, from mechanical to man-powered. There is something about riding a sled late at night weaving in and out of the forest on moonlit trails, to walking for hours upon hours noticing aspects of the area you otherwise might miss.  It’s all something to experience in its own way; I wish it all for everyone.

My background is Environmental Biology so managing these important natural resources is very important to me. But I will also state that managing trails can be extremely intensive when it comes to maintenance and budgets, with little to no ability for return.  I have seen multi-usage be a huge benefit in that regard from many angles, such as decreasing maintenance burdens to increasing revenues.

I have been involved in projects where trail managers attempted to create different trails for different uses. That concept in itself creates more issues and less benefit and I have determined without a doubt, is not the solution. Restriction is not the solution.

To reiterate my basic point: multi-use trails provide so much benefit that I could talk about them all day to try and convince others.  Although these are just quick points without much context, I hope I at least offered some new things to consider in this debate.

There is no doubt mutli-use trails bring challenges.  But I challenge all the users to work together to find better solutions so that everyone can experience these great resources. It is possible. The whole concept of multi-use suggests that the trail may not be perfect for anyone, but it can be great for everyone.