October 25, 2023
Heading out for the day on a mountain bike or in a pair of hiking boots is a beautifully uncomplicated, fun, healthy way to spend time, and Cumberland is becoming known on Vancouver Island as one of the best places to do that.
Today there are more than 200 kilometres of trails on Cumberland’s doorstep, which collectively saw about 220,000 users in 2022.
“These trails are used widely, and they serve a great purpose for the whole community,” says Dougal Browne, Executive Director of the United Riders of Cumberland (UROC), the non-profit society that manages and advocates for the Cumberland trail network.
However, creating, maintaining and promoting the trails, and everything that goes along with that, is anything but uncomplicated. Since the late 1990s, when unofficial trail builders ventured out to create the first trails in the area, a lot of time and energy have gone into organizing efforts and growing a safe, sustainable asset that can be enjoyed by all community members and attract visitors too.
In 2008 UROC was formed, with a mission to ensure continued access to a diverse, evolving and well-managed trail network. In 2015, after many years of work, they were the first organization to sign a land agreement with private landowners which would allow them to truly advocate for and grow the mountain biking scene in the area.
“Our work involves a lot of stakeholders, lots of interests and lots of other nonprofits who have an interest in other things within the network,” Dougal explains. “It's a lot of juggling and a lot of making friends and keeping good relationships.”
UROC now has about 2,500 members and it advocates for mountain biking through the ongoing building and maintenance of trails, hosting events, facilitating group rides, encouraging young riders and positivity within the biking community, as well as nurturing good working relationships with landowners, and other community groups and organizations.
In order to maintain its land access agreement UROC is responsible for keeping the Cumberland trail network to a high standard, Dougal says.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure that we have trails that are not only fun and exciting, but safe trails too. To do that we've had to steer the local trail builders who have built the trail network over these last 30 years and get their buy-in on the UROC trail development and maintenance programs.”
Once the trails have been built there’s ongoing maintenance to be done, which costs more than $100,000 each year. Membership fees from trail users contribute to that, and volunteers are critical to this piece of the puzzle too.
“There are thousands of hours and sweat equity that go into the trail system,” Dougal says. And UROC works hard to strike a balance with their planning to meet the needs of all the trail users.”
Besides the tremendous opportunity for local recreation, another positive spinoff of the growing trail network is the impact on the local economy. Cumberland has become a well-known biking destination in BC, Canada, and even internationally, and Cumberland businesses—most of which are locally owned and independent—provide biking gear, equipment and coaching, repair services, as well as food, beverages, accommodations and entertainment.
“It's quite something to think that here we are in 2023, and there's industry, there are thousands of members, there's hundreds of thousands of dollars being poured into this network. And, back in 1997, when that first hoe hit the ground, the intention was simply to build a 5-minute experience. It's quite mind numbing what has happened and evolved.”
In 2023 UROC began transforming a small unused quarry with potential to fill a gap for their beginner and intermediate riders. With support by the quarry landowners and First Credit Union (FCU), UROC is developing a bike skills park, which will include training drops and jumps.
Community stakeholders like First Credit Union (FCU) have played an important role in this project, as well as other UROC initiatives.
“FCU stepped right up when we started looking for money to get the quarry project going and that was a stepping stone to getting other related projects off the ground for youth development.”
Learn more at unitedridersofcumberland.com
Written by Emma Levez Larocque