Rippers on the bluffs

Rippers on the bluffs Will Whitehorse please defend its own bylaws and put a stop to the flagrant machine abuse of the Black Street Gully access and the other three or four routes to the airport bluffs? And by "abuse" and "ripper" in what follows, I mean

Will Whitehorse please defend its own bylaws and put a stop to the flagrant machine abuse of the Black Street Gully access and the other three or four routes to the airport bluffs?

And by “abuse” and “ripper” in what follows, I mean anyone up on the bluffs on any motorized machine. Those that stick to the trails up there are not supposed to be up there, and before they began there was only a single trail, or none.

I don’t mean every one of these users intends to kill plant life, though they all do to some degree. And, to be fair, yes, bicycles and boots also kill plants, but it’s to a much, much lesser degree.

I’d like to extend this to other areas, such as the College and Long Lake, for starters, but the bluffs/clay cliffs, along with the sandy butte above Riverdale at least boast bylaw signs proclaiming the area to be “Non-Motorized Use Only.”

So let’s start with the bluffs and Black Street Gully.

Why was the barrier that used to effectively stop ATVs and snowmachines moved? At the “waist” of the gully entrance, it had been narrow enough to stop machines.

When the city maintenance guy moved it to its present street level, I assumed some clever plan that would put paid to the abuse of the gully and bluffs - not increased access!

(Walking the mutts, I witnessed the fellow moving the barrier and made some comment that I couldn’t wait to see how his handiwork would finally stop the rippers and the dealer who used his snowmobile and the route as a conduit for that trade. I naively assumed protection, not permission to proceed unchallenged.)

This occurred within the first year of Bev Buckway’s mayoralty, to the best of my recollection.

Odd, that previous mayor Ernie Bourassa, a snowmobile enthusiast, was the one to respect the bluffs – I have always wondered if Buckway made some quiet policy decision, or made an even quieter one of looking the other way, or if city underlings decided to make an end run and let their nephews “play” on their “toys.” What harm can it be?

The airport bluffs are a real treat and a privilege for walkers, joggers and birders. A sanctuary.

Until about five years ago, it was rare to see any machine up there. Those that did snuck up at dusk, long after the bylaw boys went home. You can hear their mechanical-bear-cub grunting in the quiet evenings and, sometimes, flat-out races.

This mostly remains true today, but more and more dare the daylight. They all know no one has any intent of doing anything about it, and it seems no citizen has anything to say about it – not that I’ve read, anyway.

I’m an amateur ecologist, at best, but it is my view the airport bluffs encompass ecozones and overlapping minizones that don’t exist elsewhere in the Whitehorse area. Not as species-rich as the marshes such as at the college, the bluffs nonetheless offer a host of plants, small mammals and birds that are not seen in other places.

Perhaps no single species on the bluffs is rare or endangered - I can’t say - but I’ll bet if one listed all the species that are found up here, from the three small rodents I’ve seen tracks of to the assortment of birds and plants - we’d find uniqueness.

This should be protected.

I have photographed a few bird species up here that, while not to my knowledge rare or endangered, are not commonly seen.

Eastern kingbird, Say’s phoebe, olive-sided flycatcher, merlins and kestrels. I’ve only seen the kingbird and the phoebe once - a few years ago – and the two small hawks have become very scarce there. Even the bluebirds seem less abundant. White-crowned sparrows, savannah sparrows and fox sparrows are also up there.

Many birds, such as the white-crowned sparrow, nest directly on the ground or in low shrubs, right amid the tall wild grasses that grow up here, or by the Gormand’s bearded-tongue with its hypnotizing contrasting blues. They are unprotected, not even by a shrub or sapling - as if even those areas are safe. So I suspect these folks on quads and those two nice young ladies on mini-dirtbikes are unwittingly squishing the occasional fledgling. Never mind the full-size pickup that I photographed topping the bluffs from the dirtbike circuit by the baseball diamonds. (You feel like saying, “Yes, four-wheel drives can go a lot of places. But they shouldn’t. Now stop proving it!”)

There seem to be no sacrosanct places where machineheads are NOT allowed (even ones the bylaw paints as off-limits), and, for that reason, we need to protect the few areas that, until a couple years ago, were not much accessed by rippers Ð and unless they stay right on existing trails, they are all rippers.

To close I can go on and on about this topic and I’d like to see this actually see ink - the bylaw fellow I spoke to was, in my view, just plain wrong in defending the city’s intention to acquire quads to patrol quads up there.

That is ridiculous.

“We’d just wait on an off-trail and then pounce.”

Well, he might wait there for two days, or three hours. And will they be there off-hours when the kids really come out to play, burping along as I’m reading in my yard?

No, it’s pretending to act. It’s public relations.

But, quite aside from the logistics of the boring wait, and the credulity he expects of me to believe he’d just sit there waiting and not rip around on his own, it’s just the wrong signal. No machines up there means no machines up there. And the governments ought to lead the way, not jump on the bandwagon.

I envision a choppy black-and-white movie of Keystone Kops chasing Ripper Ron in a herky-jerky display of absurdity on the bluffs. Rather than giving chase to sitting ducks, like helmetless cyclists or dog-doo abandoners - pretty minor business - let’s try and protect the life forms that can’t protect themselves.

Rather than letting coyotes guard the henhouse, let’s think outside the box and ask for citizens’ help: set up a Twitter account, manned 24/7 by city or a contract answering service, who will receive alerts that a quad or snowmachine is on the bluffs. Then go get them by putting a truck at either end. Increase the fines. Put the barriers back, and check them every day. Put in a turnstile or a narrow gap at the two or three bottlenecks on the bluffs - some are three feet wide. It’s not difficult.

Let’s nip this in the bud before these ripper people think it’s a creator-given right to destroy. Make some areas strictly off-limits - even to the tractor-mower the airport likes to use up there. Mark my words, there will be fewer grass fires started by these ATV escape artists, fewer Kokanee and Bud cans, fewer cigarette butts (cyclists, in general, don’t smoke), fewer cracked saplings, the drug trade will have been impeded and the birds will come back.

Let’s honour the “wilderness” in our “wilderness city” as well as the many planners who have published studies since the Second World War on how to protect these slipping slopes.

Keep machines off - it’s simple.

Murray Munn

Whitehorse