Quick, name a fantastic riding area in the Barrie area? Hardwood. I agree, but can you name one that isn’t Hardwood? No shame in that, until recently I couldn’t either. Whenever I would make the trip up to the Barrie area it was to ride Hardwood, a known commodity. In the past few years I’ve been hearing more about other places to ride: the Admin Centre, Horseshoe Resort, and the tons of trails in the numerous Simcoe County Forests. And not just in Barrie proper, there are good spots in the surrounding towns as well; Midland, Orillia, Penetang, Wasaga Beach.

However one destination in particular kept popping up in conversation: Copeland Forest.

Copeland Forest is owned and managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources. For a long time it was the secret playground of the local residents, but word got around and it has increasingly become a popular destination for mountain bikers, hikers, equestrians and other trail users. Inevitably some conflict arose and calls to MNR ensued. The MNR recognized that something had to be done, so rather than just shut the whole place down, or kick out the mountain bikers (a still too popular approach) they decided to ask the Couchiching Conservancy to tackle the problem. Couch (as it’s affectionately called) got some money and in addition to doing a three year species inventory has agreed to set up a stakeholder group for Copeland Forest.

At the same time that I was hearing about Copeland, Couch was hearing about IMBA. Eventually I managed to get the right person on the phone. A good conversation ensued and we decided that an Open House should be held to try to spur the local mountain biking community into action. It was time to get organized. Why? Well at some point in the future the question is going to be asked “Hey mountain bikers, how are you going to be a good steward of this land?” We better have an answer, and more importantly we better have a local group who will do the work. That’s the problem in Simcoe County, no club is taking the lead in advocacy, land access and trail building matters. Lots of riding groups, but “just riding” doesn’t cut it anymore.

While waiting for the open house to happen, I was taken on a tour of Copeland by the CTS club (out of Midland). A great group of guys (that day it was only guys, none of the lady members showed). They showed me some of the best stuff; it gave me a good feel for what kind of riding is available on the property. Cross country mostly, but I mean “old school” cross country with rocks, roots, long climbs, ripping descents, mud, even a train crossing. Even though our ride was near the 4 hour mark we were still only scratching the surface of how much riding is available there.

On Sunday October 24th, the open house happened. I’ve been to a number of these, and played host at my fair share. You never know how it’s going to turn out. You expect at least some riders, and would like a good turnout, but I never expected what happened. It was standing room only in the Craighurst community hall. I never got a full tally but it must have been pushing 100 riders. Men, women;  young, middle-age, elderly; XC, DH, allmountain; some ride with clubs, some with shops, some just locals. Even the local gardening committee (aka underground trail builders) showed up. Awesome!

We had a good two hour discussion on why this was happening, challenges that are likely to be faced, and most importantly the next steps. I encouraged everyone to think bigger than just Copeland Forest, even though that is what sparked this and will take the priority right now. Don’t just form a Copeland Forest club, form a Simcoe County club. An appeal was made for 5 passionate, dedicated individuals who would donate a lot of their spare time in the next 5 years to get things off the ground. We had no problem getting those names. It is a good mix of people from different parts of the Simcoe MTB scene.

I’m very excited by all of this. I wish the core group of volunteers well. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with IMBA Canada when you need help, advice, or just want to chat. A big thanks to Greg (the Gorilla on a Bike) from CTS and Dorthea (from Couch) for really pushing this forward and making it happen. We are most effective when IMBA Canada is working with our local riders, clubs and shops.

PS if you’re area is poorly represented, or not at all, and you’d like to do something about it that, give me a call or send me an email: jason.murray@imba.com.