Friday, January 12, 2007

Crothers' Woods: the Other Side of the Tracks

Crothers' Woods: the other side of the tracks (click to expand)

Crothers' Woods is a fairly well known location in the Don Valley. It is the area bounded roughly by Pottery Rd and the Leaside Bridge on the north and west side of the river. It is a popular area for hiking, dog walking and mountain biking. The main trail hugs the western slope and can be followed all the way east to E.T. Seton Park.

One of the defining features in this part of the valley is the CNR tracks. They travel through the bottom of the valley going back and forth across the river depending on how the river meanders. Just south of the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant, the railroad crosses the river and creates a sliver of land that is very hard to access. Technically, it is illegal (and dangerous) to cross the tracks. Yet there is a section of this bridge that crosses over a low part of the riverbank where, if you duck down, you can get under the bridge to access this section of the valley. Because this section is relatively inaccessible, it has been informally adopted by the mountain bikers.

There is a trail known as "The Flats" that runs beside the river all the way to E.T. Seton Park. Coupled with the ridge trail this forms a loop which many of the bikers enjoy as a single circuit. Their use of this section of the valley hasn't stopped here. A subgroup of mountain bikers likes to do "stunting", basically pedalling their bikes over a series of jumps or narrow bridges placed in a certin sequence to create a challenge course. In the Don this has been done at two places. One place is known as "DJs", (short for Dirt Jumps, see map). This area has been highly modified with packed earth jumps and ramps. They are set in sequence so that the bikers can practice their skills over a set course.

Series of packer dirt jumps at DJs.

Bikers have a nice little camp setup nearby.

More jumps setup in a grove of Cottonwoods and Manitoba Maples.

The pond next to DJ's. A popular spot for Black Crowned Night Herons to fish.

Another area known as "The Camp" (see map) has been used to build some wooden bridges, ramps and teeter totters which is another type of stunt used by the bikers.

Bridge and turnpike for mountain bikes

Ramp at the camp

If you make it to the top, you then have to jump down to the bottom since it ends abruptly!

This area has existed for at least two years and has been recently expanded. Due to the inaccessibility of the area and also due to the degraded nature of the natural environment, the city has allowed it to remain. There is currently a city wide issue with these types stunt areas and they can be found in several places throughout the watershed. This is partly due to the fact that there is no official place available where bikers can go to practice and perform.

A management plan is currently being created to take care of Crothers' Woods and the use of this area will certainly be mentioned. As part of the study process, public consultations were held and the mountain biking community was consulted about their needs.

While it is too early to predict what the plan will say, the prevailing wisdom is that this type of activity doesn't conform to the use of a natural area. However, places like DJs can't be successfully closed down until the city develops facilities in regular parks for this type of activity. Until then I think we are stuck with it.


Anonymous said...

Until then, I think we are stuck with it.

Anonymous said...

I don't use the dirt jumps or the vast majority of other structures when I bike; however, I think the city, or whoever is responsible for this area, would be well advised to leave the dirt jumps. The fact is that leveling dirt jumps and various other structures has been no more successful in preventing their construction than has incarcerating people for committing crimes been a panacea for crime. You can make it illegal for people to do it, but people will still do it. There are many areas in this city and other cities where jumps and structures are banned. It does not prevent them from being built. If the city knows where the structures and jumps are then they will be able to control it a lot more effectively.

Anonymous said...

There are other reasons the Camp and the Jumps have been left open, mainly the fact that the users have the good sense to know their limits. I would respectfully submit that the 'dangerous' structures built and used by bikers are part of what keeps kids outside, exercising, and interested. And the removal of all bike traffic and such from the don trails would do nothing to help the Don valley. Believe it or not, cyclists do lots of trail maintenance and garbage pick-up. They are a large number of the people fighting to save the don. I have used the trails for years as both a dog walker and a biker, NEVER have I had a negative experience with a biker, I have never seen anyone other than a biker cleaning up garbage or doing trail maintenance (although that is not to say I feel only bikers do these activities).
The fact is, the Don Valley is one of the great assets of our city. I have come down to the Don Valley for exercise, excitement, fresh air, solitude, an escape from the city nearby, to meet some of the great friends I have made in the Valley, or simply to reflect upon the beauty before me. The people I have met, on bikes or on foot, or walking a dog, have always been friendly and have almost always shown great respect to the natural wonder they are in. The Don Valley is an amazing ecosystem, with amazing trails that keep kids off streets and keep hundreds of users fit. In a country such as Canada, to NOT make use of a beautiful environment in an environmentally-friendly manner, and to deny users who love and care for the Don as much as any other group would be simply not right.

The Don cyclists are attracted by the admittedly potentially dangerous trails, jumps, and features, and like it or not, to save the Don over the long term, ALL users are going to have to unite, and believe that bikers can do their part when it comes to sustainability.

Anonymous said...

I think Eminem said it best. “There is no such thing as bad press.” Discussion is good., passionate debate is better but positive action is best.

I think the goals of the task force to bring back the don and those of the mountain biking community (aka The Fat Tire Clan) are generally in the same direction. Both parties want to bring back a “clean, green and accessible Don River watershed.”

What I would question is the motivation of this Task Force to Bring Back the Don. Bring it back to what? Are we picking a time frame? 1800’s? 1900’s? The Don Valley has been poorly managed for a long time. Remedial effort will take lifetimes and generations. Simply cutting down a few maple trees may achieve the stated intent of bringing back a few furry woodland creatures in the short term, however it might not be as expected. Without cleaning up the garbage first you may find yourself with a wonderful outbreak of rodents. Of course rats make great food for foxes and coyotes. And they will come. Of course this will be much to the chagrin of the pet owners in Rosedale… lest little fluffy and fifi become part of the food chain. Just imagine as the population of stray animals declines thanks to Mr Willie Coyote, what will be the menu options at the late night China town buffet? All kidding aside, these natural cycles take many decades to adjust, balance and level out.

I argue that one must step back and take a more global and longitudinal view of the area. This includes what it means to the city and the people that live there over a series of generations. Furthermore, the required remedial effort is not simply one of “giving nature a helping hand” but is in fact the challenge of keeping interest in the Don Valley as a viable Greenspace for our great grand children to continue to love and cherish as we do.

It’s in this thinking that one becomes more interested in how to generate interest within the people that live, play and work in this space. It seems rather simple minded to view this as a project of improving the forest management practice in the area. Let’s face it. Forest Management is just gardening on a bigger scale. What we have here is a socio-economic problem not someone’s PHD theses in remedial tree planting. The real threat to the valley is human indifference. And it’s the cultivation of indifference in future generations that will threaten the resource for all.

So as thousands of new Canadians pour into the city each year, I wonder if the view of the “task force” is myopic or even slightly catatonic? I question the wisdom of alienating the proactive members of the mountain biking community. Take a look at the demographics of this group of people. They represent the leading edge and mainstream of the young people in this City. We of the “fat tire clan” are of all races, creeds and religions. Are the “task force members” equally diverse? I fear they maybe heavily weighted by privileged, middle class white folks with the intent protecting the Don valley on our behalf. Maybe it’s the unwritten desire of this “task force” that we of the “generation next” should simply shut up and consider ourselves lucky enough to inherit someone else’s dreams for our future.

Over the long term, if you don’t have the enthusiastic support of young people how will the “task force’s” achievements exist past this generation? The maples will come back, but a community of interest is more delicate to maintain. Maybe the City has shown more wisdom in keeping the mountain bikers in the game than we give them credit for.

There was one comment that made me smile in the blog: “I think we are stuck with it”. That’s an interesting perspective. Indeed you are stuck with us. We the caretakers of the valley. We who ride it daily, keep the trails open, in good shape and accessible to all. . We are the ones who lecture litter bugs and new people riding without helmets. We are those who welcome new Canadians enjoying the trails with big grins on their faces. We of the Fat tire clan are the ambassadors of this space because we are out there.

So I have a plea to all those who claim to be of good intent. Make sure that you bend your back more than flap your mug. Come join us who continually invest sweat equity in the Don. We make good company and have more passion collectively than you will every rally with a blog or another beige meeting with City officials. Look for us. Talk with us. Laugh with us. We aren’t hard to miss. We’ll be the ones who are sweaty, dirty and loving every minute of it.


Da Bull

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Also, some more resources, this time by a botany professor and guelph masters student called 'Impacts of Experimentally Applied Mountain Biking and Hiking on Vegetation and Soil of a Deciduous Forest'.

A snippet from the abstract that sums it up:

In most cases, there were no significant differences between the effects of hiking and biking activity on the measured variables. These results imply that at similar use intensities, the short-term impacts of hiking and mountain biking should not be expected to differ greatly in a deciduous forest habitat.

As I see it, anyone who promulgates restricting bike access on the sole basis of damage to the trails or inconsistency with recreational parkland mission statements, if they're going to be honest about it, must come out in favour of restricting foot traffic by an equal amount since it is just as damaging, and perhaps even moreso in some cases. Most bike trails that I'm familiar with start out as foot paths and service roads.

Anonymous said...

Don watcher, I would like to thank you for not crapping on the efforts of the mountain bikers in the don-valley trail system. When I came across your comments I was literally worried about what you would have to say. I know we are basically on the same page when it comes to maintaining the valley and keeping this wonderful area green.

I won't lie. I had a major part in building a lot of the wooden "stunts" features on the ridge and in the "camp" Dirt camp. I would like to point out why this area is called the Dirt Camp so readers can understand why we name these places. When a friend of mine and myself found this area of the Dirt Camp it was about 5 years ago. littered with old tents, broken motorcycles, old bikes, mattresses, scooter, tarps, trash, sleeping bags and old clothes.

We started lugging the garbage out 2 years later when we saw that no one really cared about this area. 22 bags of trash was hauled out of the area and taken away by the city. We raked the area and used the old fallen trees for features. Everything but the "Know your limits" feature was natural dead fall.

The Know your limits feature was my idea and will be removed either before winter or soon after as we are trying to now use only dead fall for anything will place on the flats.

The dirt jump area is close to 15 years old and was recently rebuilt about 4 years ago and still continues today. We started rebuilding the area because there was in fact NO place in the area where kids could ride. This is the main reason for building these jumps. It is a great place for them, safe and away from the streets.

On any given Saturday you will find at most 70-80 riders at the jumps. The age range runs from very young (2-10) to 65 years old. These kids have nothing else to do and there is really nothing else they are interested in. They set goals and then ride till the complete them. So not only do these kids meet great people in a safe environment, these can work towards something. bettering themselves with every visit.

Because I see so many people in this area from all ages and all walks of life I will say that if this area is not kept by the city you can bet that these kids will be riding the streets, skate parks (where they get beat up by skaters) or on your slopped retaining wall of your home. We don't want this and as a 34 year old Home owner and business owner i don't want this either.

I am a business owner and a tax payer and the city NEEDS to listen to us. The older riders int he Don Valley are also business owners, city workers, firefighters, police, professionals period. People see the mountain bikes as evil wrong doers and to be quite frank. We are not. We ARE the ones doing the clean ups, doing the trail work, removing old fallen trees, calling hydro telling them trees are going to fall on the lines before they do. We have built bridges under the train tracks to prevent people from having to walk over them.

This is the mountain bike community caring about everyone. Not just ourselves like some media (eye mag) have so nicely said "chain saw toting high flyers". The biggest insult we ever could have received for over 25 years of trail work in the valley.

Most of you thank us. The rest of you don't understand us. Stop by the jumps over evening and say hi to someone with a shovel. You will find that this person is welcoming and not a dink.

Thanks everyone for reading.
Take care and keep the rubber side down.

Trail Guy (name isn't given because this is still illegal building)

Donwatcher said...

Dear Trail Guy,

I commend you and your mountain biker friends for cleaning out this neglected part of the Don Valley. I certainly sympathize with your situation and I know that the city has not kept pace with the evolution of the mountain biking sport and its need for places like DJs. That being said I would like to make a few comments.

1. Environmental groups have been removing garbage from the Don since the early 1990s and I presume yours and other groups will continue to do so into the future. So, yes your actions are approved but it is nothing new.

2. Once you removed the garbage and debris from this area it seems that this action gave you a sense of entitlement and ownership, perhaps a feeling that since no one else wanted the area you could do as you pleased. Other groups that have removed garbage have not behaved so, they have allowed the valley to return to its natural state, something you have not done. You replaced one human use with another.

3. Your argument that you are a taxpayer is baseless since we are all taxpayers. Just because you are taxpayer doesn't give you extra privileges.

4. I agree with you that the city has neglected the mountain biking sport and has so far failed to provide proper facilities. However, responsible environmental groups such as the Task Force to Bring Back the Don and the Don Watershed Regeneration Council have lobbied the city to create these facilities in places that are risk (and liability) free. My preference would be to use regular parks that are close to neighbourhoods. BMX parks should have the same say-so on park use that dog off-leash areas have recently garnered. Once these places are built, there will be no need to hide your activities in places like DJs.

5. When DJs is closed down, I'd like to see the area restored to its natural state. The location has the advantage of being inaccessible (legally) and this means that it has a good chance of making it as natural sanctuary, far from human interference. I am sure that you might agree that this would be a preferable use than its pre-DJ incarnation.

6. I've always known that the mountain bikers and the environmentalists are on the same page when it comes to appreciation and respect of the natural environment. We need to achieve a balance between human use and natural function in non-urban areas such as our ravines. The Don Valley needs your effort and support and I hope that we can work together to achieve it. There may be some pain regarding the future disposition of DJs but I think we are all big enough to see beyond it.