ATV, snowmobile Whitehorse trail debate heats up

The city's plan to revise regulations governing ATVs and snowmobiles and its extensive network of trails has opened up a municipal can of worms.

The city’s plan to revise regulations governing ATVs and snowmobiles and its extensive network of trails has opened up a municipal can of worms.

More than 20 delegates appeared before council earlier this month to speak about the city’s new snowmobile bylaw and trail plan amendments.

But if the debate about motorized and nonmotorized recreation has become a bit strained and acrimonious, it has at least generated new interest in city politics.

And while it may be divisive in some ways, it’s also bringing like-minded citizens together.

While the proponents of motorized recreation have organizations like the Klondike Snowmobile Association to lobby on their behalf, those on the other side of the debate for the most part are advocating on their own.

But that may soon change.

A few proponents of non-motorized trail use, along with the Yukon Conservation Society, are working to organize their own user group.

The Nonmotorized Trail Advocacy Group is just a working title, said Christina Macdonald, the society’s wildlife co-ordinator, who is also helping to organize the trail group.

“Right now the conversation seems quite polarized,” she said. “We don’t want to be part of an organization that’s coming across as against motorized vehicle use in the city.

“We want to promote a positive message to be for something rather than against something.”

That “something” is walkability and connectivity between neighbourhoods, said Macdonald.

A big concern for the fledgling group is an amendment to the city’s trail plan that would restrict seats on the Whitehorse trail committee to representatives of First Nations, municipal and territorial governments.

Because the trail committee would be tasked with mediating disputes over the use of the city’s trails, the city’s administration felt it should be restricted to landowners in the interest of neutrality.

Under the trail plan, citizen groups would still be able to have some say on the individual neighborhood task forces.

That’s not what was originally envisioned under the city’s 2007 master plan, said Macdonald.

“The concern is that what’s being proposed is going to take the place of community engagement and that’s not something that we want to see,” she said.

Though YCS is helping to organize the group, it’s not an appendage of the society, said Macdonald.

“We were approached by a couple of community members who were looking for assistance with a group of this kind,” she said. “YCS felt this would be a good idea so we’re assisting in the formation of this group.”

Right now the group is in its initial stages.

“It remains to be seen how much interest there is in the group,” said Macdonald.

Its first meeting will be March 15 at the YCS office in downtown Whitehorse.

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