ATV bylaw puts Millennium Trail at risk

I recognize the significant work invested by the City of Whitehorse, its employees and stakeholders in drafting the All-Terrain Vehicle Bylaw 2012-21. I also realize that this bylaw will not please every resident.

I recognize the significant work invested by the City of Whitehorse, its employees and stakeholders in drafting the All-Terrain Vehicle Bylaw 2012-21. I also realize that this bylaw will not please every resident.

Notwithstanding this evident truth, the revised section 16 of the bylaw contains a number of exemptions to areas where ATVs are normally prohibited that might be of concern to most residents, or certainly to those who are accustomed to the Millennium Trail as a non-motorized trail.

Section 16 states, “Notwithstanding any other section of this bylaw, a person may push an ATV in the following prohibited areas if the engine has been turned off.” Among the areas the bylaw lists: a campground, an area designated as environmentally sensitive, a ski trail and the Millennium Trail. One might ask: What is an ATV doing in “an environmentally sensitive area” in the first place? If ATVs are passing through, that area won’t be “environmentally sensitive” for long.

My particular concern, however, remains the Millennium Trail. This trail – the jewel of Whitehorse trails – is the most popular and heavily-used trail in the city. Daily, one encounters walkers and runners of all ages, parents walking with children or pushing children in strollers, dog walkers, cyclists, skateboarders, etc.

Since its inception, the Millennium Trail has been designated as “non-motorized.” Indeed, lovely signage, with graphic maps and distances, was installed last fall and clearly indicates that ATVs and snowmobiles are prohibited. The recently-approved snowmobile bylaw reasserts this prohibition.

Now the city is proposing to jeopardize this trail and put pedestrian users at risk. Why? Apparently, the notion is to permit ATV users to go from Riverdale to the west side of the Yukon River and vice versa. This would make the Rotary Centennial Bridge, the adjacent sections of the Millennium Trail, and the gravel service roads in the Robert Service Campground part of an “out and away” trail system. (And the Robert Service Campground already has problems with ATVs and dirt bikes racing through its grounds).

As pedestrian users, we are meant to take comfort from the fact that “a person may push” an ATV. Possible? Perhaps. Likely, I think not.

Depending on the routing through the Robert Service Campground, the minimum distance for pushing an ATV from the Robert Service Campground entrance to Nisutlin Drive in Riverdale is 600 metres, if the campground is compelled to leave open a gate meant for emergency access. The affected section of the Millennium Trail contains two 90-degree bends – blind spots – and also crosses land owned by Yukon Energy.

My suspicion would be that ATV users, many of them young, would not be pushing these fairly heavy vehicles that considerable distance with their engines off. Conflict is a likely result; the potential for an accident, even a tragedy, clearly exists. And what about liability? Oh, and please remind unwary tourists walking the loop to be ever vigilant.

This bylaw will license ATV passage over the Rotary Centennial Bridge and along the Millennium Trail. It starts with “pushing.”

Instead of enhancing pedestrian use of that magnificent trail, the city is moving in the wrong direction. As a regular user of the Millennium Trail, I fully appreciate the benefits to the eye, mind and body that this trail affords. Those who are similarly concerned about the threat section 16 of the ATV Bylaw represents, only have until August 13 to inform city councillors. It would be a shame to let this jewel slip through our fingers.

Rick Griffiths

Whitehorse

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