Saanich Peninsula equestrians are winning backing from some Capital Regional District board members who want to keep horses on the Lochside Regional Trail.
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell favours keeping a portion of the trail unpaved so horse riders can continue using it.
“I would be quite happy to leave it natural so that we can support the horse-riding community,” he said Thursday.
The CRD is considering paving a stretch of Lochside Trail between Island View Road in Central Saanich and Lochside Park in Saanich.
The trail is designated as a bicycle and pedestrian trail, meaning it is primarily for high-volume recreational and commuter cycling, and for walking and running, according to the CRD.
That designation is the reason paving is being considered. Once it is paved, horses would not be allowed on the trail.
Citizens have until the end of this month to comment on the draft proposal for Lochside Trail, as well as the Galloping Goose and the E&N Rail Trail’s Humpback Connector.
A final report is to go to the CRD board for a vote this year.
The portion of the trail in question is surrounded by boarding stables and private barns. It’s used by children on ponies, by trainers leading young horses on walks to accustom them to new sights, and by recreational riders.
Equestrian Lesley Carere wrote the CRD stating: “Many years ago this section of Lochside was changed to accommodate more cyclists. It was straightened (for some unknown reason), widened, and hard-panned with road base for bikes. A three-foot section on the side was sanded for horses.”
Riders feared the CRD would block horse access to the trail. “It was a hard-fought compromise,” Carere said.
Mike Hicks, chairman of the CRD parks committee, is meeting with equestrians today to accept a 1,000-plus name petition urging the district to keep the trail unpaved and to continue to allow horses.
“I am certain that we can change the trail designation if that is the will of the people,” said Hicks, who represents the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area.
He suggested it might be possible to widen the trail.
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns also opposed the paving plan, saying the horse sector boosts the local economy and helps to maintain the area’s rural nature.
“I am a very strong rural advocate and horses form part of that dynamic.”