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Mountain biking helps fuel local economy

Mountain biking helps fuel the Cariboo's economy, bike consortium says.
James Doerfling on Snakes and Ladders near Williams Lake. The newly constructed mountain biking trail will officially open May 20

A mountain bike organization born out of the mountain pine beetle is now launched to blow the mountain bike world away, said Justin Calof, executive director of the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium, during a presentation to Williams Lake city council Mar. 5.

Snakes and Ladders, the consortium’s recently completed trail, will be the region’s “signature trail,” he said.

“It comprises 22,000 board feet of lumber on the eight kilometre trail, a suspension bridge and a sky berm. It’s uniquely Cariboo, there’s nothing like it. We are going to market this thing like crazy.”

The consortium is a regional organization, Calof explained.

"We worked carefully with the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition when we established ourselves in 2009. We represent the communities of 100 Mile House, Quesnel, Wells and Williams Lake."

The aim is to grow the mountain bike economy in the region, while helping diversify the region's economy.

"We're a marketing organization and we're also a capacity-building and mountain bike bureaucracy organization. We support all the bike clubs in the region with that paper element that bike clubs usually aren't super good at."

The consortium has also established partnerships with the service sector, with local and regional governments, and different funding organizations in an effort to grow the economy.

"We also try to assist local bike clubs in maintaining world-class mountain bike infrastructure."

A website——has seen a 207 per cent growth in traffic since 2010 and the support received from the city's manager of economic development Alan Madrigga and director of recreation services Geoff Payton have been invaluable, Calof said.

Working with the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association and the city, a billboard advertising the region's mountain biking was erected on the Sea-to-Sky highway.

"That's where the bulk of the mountain bike market share exists. We put the billboard there to try and get people to think outside the Lower Mainland and come up to the Cariboo."

Calof and Madrigga recently submitted a third application to the CCCTA to continue leveraging funds to maximize the resources.

"Another piece the city and the consortium worked on was the bike park we built in 2010. It's the largest bike park in the Interior. It's still doing well and we hope to do some more work this spring to make it fresh."

A group of young riders have been pulled in to take over some of the maintenance of the bike park who will also have some control over the design.

With the city's support, the consortium recently gained significant mileage in grabbing the mountain biking share that is traditionally consolidated on the coast.

"We were down at the Vancouver Bike Show over the weekend and every bike community was represented. They are all competing for this fast growing tourism sector and I think we have a really significant advantage because we started in 2009," he said.

In an attempt to "dispel potential myths" about who mountain bikes, Calof said a 2012 economic assessment indicated mountain bikers are on average between 25 and 34 years old.

Forty per cent of them have a university education and 75 per cent of them earn on average $65,000 a year. Another 15 per cent earn more than $100,000 annually.

"We're talking about the double income no kids demographic in the Pacific Northwest. These folks have money and they are motivated to travel to mountain bike and they want to visit destinations."

Calof has noticed since the early 90s that mountain biking has evolved from a  "rogue" sport to an established sector. Evident, he suggested, because of how much effort the provincial government is putting into developing it.

"It really is part of economic diversification in the Cariboo," he said. "We've had mountain biking resources here for a long time but never as sophisticated and coordinated as they are now."

As forestry transitions, mountain biking will never take over and replace it as the main economy, but it will support the economy and local business, he said.

The mountain bike economy in the Cariboo has grown by 11.5 per cent since 2010. It was $1.9 million then and is now around $2.26 million.

"We have a partnership with the province to count the number of users on the seven different trail networks that exist in the region. We've done intercept surveys and stopped riders asking them where they are from, where they are staying and how they heard about us."

The consortium also works with local bike shops to help quantify the sector.

Mountain biking can help attract and retain professional people to work in mines, mills and other advanced sectors, he said.

"They are looking for communities to have solid assets and the fact we have mountain biking puts us in good stead and dovetails the work city council has done in the past with its official community plan."

Calof asked for the city's help with gaining access to the bottom of Fox Mountain for mountain biking.

"We have a couple of agreements with private landowners, but we want to do more," he said. "We want to have a discussion with the city to prepare a letter we can take to landowners asking to sign landowner agreements to waive liability completely away from the landowner if somethings were to happen to a mountain biker on their property."

Similar agreements are popular in the U.S., he said.

In terms of planning for the future, Calof said the consortium is prepared with governance and policy in place.

"Do we see value and can we sustain it is the question. We're the only organization in the province set up like this. We have an established relationship with CCBAC, but we need to partner with the city to try and solidify that relationship."

Referencing communities like Fernie, Squamish, and Whistler, he pointed out that they have dedicated tax-based funding to sustain mountain biking

"I don't know what the perfect solution is but I think we need to begin to explore it to see if we can put together something to sustain what we've built."

It would require between $50,000 to $70,000 annually to sustain the consortium, maintain the market share it presently has, and ensure its growth, he said.

The region can't be everything to everybody, but mountain biking is something the region has to offer, that is worth building on, Coun. Laurie Walters said.

"I think we've demonstrated that by singling out mountain biking as a niche market. A lot of that has to do with the consortium and its driven focus."

Coun. Surinderpal Rathor complimented the consortium's work for helping put Williams Lake on the map nationally and internationally.

"I want council to agree in principle to give any help we can that is within our ways and means," he said in the form of  motion. "I know our budget is tight, but the city, council and community is there if we can help."

His motion was endorsed unanimously by council.


Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

Monica Lamb-Yorski has covered news for the Williams Lake Tribune since November 2011.
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