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The ex­pand­ing moun­tain bike net­works of Ot­tawa-gatineau

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Jeff Bartlett

The ex­pand­ing moun­tain bike net­works of Ot­tawa-gatineau

While the Ot­tawa River sep­a­rates Gatineau, Que., from its On­tario neigh­bour, the coun­try’s cap­i­tal, the two are con­nected as the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion (ncr). It’s the fifth largest metropoli­tan area in Canada. It cel­e­brates both our na­tional his­tory and its re­gional cul­ture with her­itage el­e­ments within its bound­aries. Along with the Rideau Canal, which be­came a unesco World Her­itage Site in 2007, there are 24 Na­tional His­toric Sites of Canada, a col­lec­tion of na­tional mu­se­ums, art gal­leries and the Par­lia­ment Build­ings for vis­i­tors to en­joy.

Sit­ting at the con­flu­ence of three ma­jor rivers – Ot­tawa River, Gatineau River and Rideau River – and lying where the St. Lawrence Low­lands meet the Cana­dian Shield, the ncr’s ge­og­ra­phy isn’t just visu­ally beau­ti­ful; the di­verse land­scape lends it­self to moun­tain bik­ing and the re­gion’s trail net­works.

“I live just east of down­town Ot­tawa,” says San­dra Beaubien, pres­i­dent of the Ot­tawa Moun­tain Bike As­so­ci­a­tion (omba), “It’s about 30 min­utes to three rid­ing ar­eas. You see a few be­gin­ners out on hard­tails, but it’s mostly trail bikes. It’s def­i­nitely a baggy-short scene out here, not the span­dex-race scene.”

There are three main moun­tain bike ar­eas within a short drive of the city: the Larose For­est, east of Ot­tawa along the Trans-canada High­way; Gatineau Park, north of the cap­i­tal in Que­bec; and the South March High­lands, in the west in Kanata.

“Moun­tain bik­ing has grown quickly in the past few years,” Beaubien says. “We’ve been on the cusp of more land ac­cess for years and we’re start­ing to see that hap­pen.”

Prof­its from ac­tive log­ging op­er­a­tions in and around the Larose For­est help fund the United Coun­ties of Prescott and Rus­sell’s moun­tain bike de­vel­op­ment plan. The Larose For­est trail net­work has al­ready opened 16 km of fresh sin­gle­track to the Ot­tawa area and more is set to open through­out 2018 and be­yond. “It was the real miss­ing com­po­nent to the Ot­tawa scene,” says Beaubien, “be­cause it’s the best place for fam­i­lies and begin­ner to in­ter­me­di­ate rid­ers.”

The trails weave through a thick pine for­est with vary­ing rid­ing sur­faces that are pri­mar­ily smooth and

loamy, with plenty of bermed cor­ners mixed in. All the trails are des­ig­nated as both multi-di­rec­tional and mul­tiuse, so moun­tain bik­ers must yield to other user groups.

Gatineau Park is home to the cap­i­tal re­gion’s big­gest trail net­work. To­day, there are roughly 101 km of trails that moun­tain bik­ers can ac­cess. By the spring of 2020, the park plans to turn 50 km of un­of­fi­cial trails into of­fi­cial routes for both rid­ers and hik­ers. In the win­ter, 28 km of trails that rid­ers don’t have ac­cess to in the sum­mer are open for fat bik­ing.

“Gatineau Park is a trea­sure we have right out­side of Ot­tawa,” Beaubien says. “It’s a fine bal­ance to pro­tect it and to use it. More un­of­fi­cial trails are be­ing adopted this year, but the hope is to di­min­ish the eco­log­i­cal foot­print on the park and lower the over­all im­pact trail users cre­ate.” The long-term plan also in­cludes restor­ing other ar­eas to help pro­tect the 90 plant and 50 an­i­mal species that are con­sid­ered at risk in ei­ther Que­bec or On­tario, in­clud­ing the rare eastern red cedars, eastern wolf and some of Que­bec’s only known pop­u­la­tion of Bland­ing’s tur­tle.

Camp For­tune, lo­cated in Gatineau Park, is the un­ques­tioned moun­tain bike hub for the en­tire re­gion. A $8.70 day-pass ($75 sea­son pass) is re­quired to ride at Camp For­tune, but the trails are well-worth the price of ad­mis­sion. A wel­come cen­tre, open daily, pro­vides wash­rooms, snacks and re­pair kits at Brian’s trail­head park­ing lot. A four-per­son trail crew ac­tively works to keep the trails in im­pec­ca­ble con­di­tion.

“Camp For­tune is one of the steeper ar­eas of the park and it has the most tech­ni­cal trails, too,” Beaubien says. “There are lots of rock fea­tures and way less soil than the rest of the park. It’s a great place to train.”

South March High­lands have the old­est roots i n Ot­tawa’s cy­cling scene. In 2005, omba was founded with the sole fo­cus of se­cur­ing con­tin­ued moun­tain bike ac­cess in the trail net­work. The or­ga­ni­za­tion suc­ceeded. The fast, yet tech­ni­cal, trails that are home to a great col­lec­tion of rocky fea­tures be­came the first sanc­tioned trails in the ncr. They’re still pop­u­lar, too, es­pe­cially on week­ends. Beaubien warns, how­ever, that begin­ner and even in­ter­me­di­ate rid­ers can be in­tim­i­dated. Dur­ing the win­ter months, the fat bik­ing ac­cess is vast. Larose For­est is groomed, while snow­shoe traf­fic in both South March High­lands and Gatineau Park keeps trails open for fat bik­ing. Gatineau has two win­ter-only trail net­works that run into sec­tions of the park that are cur­rently closed to cy­clists through­out the sum­mer. Closer to the city, the 15-km ma­chine-groomed Sir John A. Macdon­ald Trail along the Ot­tawa River pro­vides even more op­por­tu­ni­ties for rid­ing in the snow. omba, which has grown to in­clude more than 500 mem­bers and a so­cial-me­dia reach of more than

“Moun­tain bik­ing has grown quickly in the past few years. We’ve been on the cusp of more land ac­cess for years and we’re start­ing to see that hap­pen.”

2,000 re­gional cy­clists, con­tin­ues to work to im­prove cy­cling op­por­tu­ni­ties through­out the re­gion. The lat­est project is a bike park that will soon open in cen­tral Ot­tawa. “The old Car­ling­ton Ski Hill has been un­used for years,” Beaubien says. “Other groups had ap­plied to de­velop it, but the city never saw any­thing it liked. We ap­plied and were ap­proved.” The project is mov­ing for­ward thanks to fi­nan­cial grants from the City of Ot­tawa, mec and the Ot­tawa Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion. Ini­tially, the park will fea­ture a pump track and skills area built by the bmx­perts and Sen­tier Bo­re­alis teams. The bike park prom­ises to be­come a valu­able go-to for new rid­ers de­vel­op­ing the skills re­quired to take ad­van­tage of the chal­leng­ing sin­gle­track that sur­rounds the cap­i­tal re­gion. “All the lo­cals know how good the rid­ing is,” says Beaubien, “but the word just hasn’t got­ten out that much.” With new trails and rid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties open­ing ev­ery sea­son, it seems the rid­ing won’t stay se­cret for long.

leftCamp For­tune in Gatineau Park

above Camp For­tune

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