Mushers warn that off road vehicles are chewing up trails

Some Whitehorse dog-mushers are saying an increase in off-road vehicle traffic is damaging trails for other users.

Some Whitehorse dog-mushers are saying an increase in off-road vehicle traffic is damaging trails for other users.

They say they’ve seen damage this winter in several areas, including the Livingston Trail near Lake Laberge and the Old Dawson Trail north of the city.

Jean-Marc Champeval, owner of the Takhini River Lodge, said he recently came across two off-road vehicles – what looked like a Jeep and a side-by-side ATV – on a trail that connects to the Old Dawson Trail. He said the snow wasn’t very well-packed, so the vehicles were digging ruts in the snow.

Champeval approached them to show them the damage, and said they were “very cordial and polite.”

“They did not realize they were ruining the trail.”

But he said the drivers then continued down the trail, instead of turning back to Whitehorse. The damage was serious enough, Champeval said, that he wouldn’t want to bring tourists down that trail. “It’s not what we want to promote.”

The issue came to a head earlier this week when members of the Dog Powered Sports Association of the Yukon realized that a Facebook group called Yukon Jeepers had tentative plans for a trip up the Alligator Lake trail this weekend.

The Carbon Hill dog sled race is scheduled for that trail on Jan. 17. Some mushers were concerned the Jeepers would chew up the trail and make it hard to use.

Tamra Reynolds said the danger for mushers is that dog sleds can fall into ruts left by the vehicles and tip over. She said the issue is compounded by the lack of snow this year.

“The problem is when there’s not a lot of snow, there’s nothing to fill (the ruts) back in again with.”

She believes that same lack of snow is attracting more off-road vehicles, because they can get to places they weren’t able to during previous winters.

Reynolds reached out to Jordan Rivest, the administrator of Yukon Jeepers. He has agreed to postpone the Alligator Lake trip until after the Carbon Hill race, and said he’d be willing to consider pulling a groomer behind the vehicles during future trips.

“He seems very reasonable,” Reynolds said. “He seems like a responsible person.”

Still, in an interview with the News, Rivest said he does plan to drive the Alligator Lake trail this winter, if he can.

But he said the group never goes out with the intention of rutting up a trail.

“We try very hard not to get stuck, which means we try very hard not to dig ruts in the snow,” he said. “Our goal isn’t to intentionally screw other people over.”

Rivest said Yukon Jeepers has organized two trips this winter, down the Ibex trail in December and down the Livingston Trail on Jan. 4. He doesn’t know anything about off-road vehicles on the Old Dawson Trail this winter.

Rivest said his Jeep got stuck briefly on the Livingston Trail, but said it won’t leave lasting damage. He also showed photos of the incident to a musher, and he said she agreed with him.

He said driving off-road vehicles is how he likes to explore the Yukon wilderness.

“One of my longtime goals is to try and get as far as I can down the Livingston Trail. Not to get stuck but just to see what’s down there,” he said. “I enjoy the view. I enjoy how remote it is. And how beautiful it is.”

Rivest and another driver were also out on the Livingston Trail on Oct. 31, and got stuck in mud on one section of the trail. Until recently, his Facebook profile picture was of a Jeep stuck in mud during that outing. He changed it earlier this week.

“I know it doesn’t look good,” he explained.

Ned Cathers, co-owner of Cathers Wilderness Adventures, said he’s seen rutting on the Livingston Trail, though more snow “will probably fix it up.”

He believes everybody has the right to use the trails. “I would just like to see if people are using a trail… and they realize it’s damaging it for others, that they will back off.”

Rivest said he’s willing to discuss the issue with other trail users. But he did remove Tamra Reynolds and another musher from the Yukon Jeepers Facebook group this week. He also changed the group’s status to “secret.”

“I’m not opposed to talking to anyone. But I don’t need things taken from that page and posted all over the Yukon.”

Recreational activities, including off-roading, typically don’t require permits inside or outside Whitehorse city limits, according to information provided by Johanna Smith, acting director of the land management branch at the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

However, she also wrote that the department “is presently moving forward with the creation of ORV (off-road vehicle) regulations that will assist in the management of ORV use on lands administered under territorial lands legislation.”

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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