Nanaimo mountain bikers and other recreation enthusiasts want the Department of National Defence to rescind an order to stay off its rifle range lands.
But the military does not appear ready to budge, warning trespassers they are in danger of serious injury.
Users of trail networks on DND lands have been told that non-authorized structures — such as ramps and bridges — must be removed or they will be demolished.
“I have concern for the individuals and families that continue to trespass within this active, live-fire facility and urge everyone to respect the boundaries we have put in place,” Capt. (Navy) Jason Boyd, commander of CFB Esquimalt, said in a statement.
“Recent incidents and ongoing safety concerns require us to take action.”
A survey found a “significant increase” in trespassers and the “installation of recreational infrastructure,” the statement said. There were also signs of use of firearms, which is prohibited, and of vandalism.
Civilians aren’t supposed to be on the 351-hectare site, west of Nanaimo’s city centre. But the area has been popular for decades with everyone from hikers to dog walkers, runners and mountain bikers who love the forest and the area’s spectacular views.
But military officials point out the land is regularly used for live-fire training, including days, nights and weekends. “There is no safe time to be within the boundaries of the range,” the CFB Esquimalt statement said.
Training has been cancelled until Monday, and again on June 1, to let users salvage structures. The military says it’s planning to increase enforcement and to repair vandalized property.
Trail users have also been told that if they interrupt training, they could face a fine of up to $100.
A site map shows the live-fire site is at the southeast portion of the property.
The danger area was determined based on factors such as ammunition type and direction of fire, the CFB Esquimalt statement said. “This danger area maximizes safety by accounting for every mathematically possible bullet trajectory and corresponding landing location.”
Mountain biker Tyler Walker started a change.org petition in favour of permitting the public on the trails. By late Friday afternoon, it had more than 2,500 names.
“Realistically, the area that we are using for recreation, for riding, is super-suitable for that. It is just a huge part of our community. It is a huge part of the cycling culture.”
Walker questions safety concerns, saying there is hilly rock terrain between the live-fire site and much of the trails. “I think that if [the military] need the space, maybe they should relocate the rifle range to somewhere a bit more suitable for them.”
Dana Wacker, communications director for the Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club, is hoping CFB Esquimalt will change its mind and agree to shared access. The group has approached the base in the past without success, however.
Now that the community using the trails is banding together, perhaps everyone can work together toward a land-use agreement, Wacker said. Trail supporters are being encouraged to contact elected representatives.
“We all love and cherish that area. It is one of the most beautiful places in Nanaimo and there are several lookouts.”