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Cycling community looks to sanction trails at Black Oak Heritage Park

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Black Oak Heritage Park is one part of what will soon make up the Ojibway National Urban Park.

But a community group of cyclists is concerned access to the park will go away when the National Park opens in about a year.

The 660-acre park, which is owned by the City of Windsor, has a vast trail system open for hikers, bird watchers, and even leisure cycling.

Advocates call it a hidden gem.

“I stumbled upon these trails and I instantly fell in love, right, and [the trails] became sort of a happy place,” said James Braakman, a director of Windsor Essex Bike Community.

“It's one of the most serene areas that I know of around here,” said Glyn Buck, a co-director for the not-for-profit advocacy group.

Black Oak Heritage Park is home to approximately 130 endangered plant and animal species, but Braakman said at one point, it was a dumping ground for old cars, trash, and illicit behaviour.

“There was illegal activity in here, drug use, off road vehicles,” Braakman said. “And it's been the cyclists and the trail users coming in here using this trail every day that has kicked all that out.”

There’s one catch; cycling on many of the trails is prohibited by the City of Windsor to protect the black oak savannah’s ecological integrity. According to the city's website, it’s open only for passive recreational activities.

That hasn’t stopped mountain bikers from using it all 12 kilometres of trails.A cyclist uses paths snaking through Black Oak Heritage Park in Windsor's west-end on Sunday Dec. 3, 2017. (Photo by AM800's Gord Bacon)

“You come out here in the middle of the summer or on a nice day, you can't even get a parking spot because there's so many people who really love these trails and it's a really special place for a lot of people,” said Braakman.

The Windsor Essex Bike Community (WEBC) is advocating for the trails to be sanctioned by the city, and eventually, Parks Canada when it becomes part of the National Urban Park.

“By sanctioning the trails, you get regulation, you can implement awareness, you can implement a framework, you can implement guidelines that are going to lead to long term environmental sustainability,” said Braakman.

Neither Parks Canada nor the City of Windsor responded to interview requests Friday, but Braakman confirmed they have met with the cycling community and their conversations have been respectful.

But cyclists warn much like today, even when the national park opens, rouge users will continue to access the trails.

“Why can't we find a solution here, under the watchful eye or guidance of Parks Canada, to create a similar trail network where trail users, environmental sustainability, Parks Canada, the city of Windsor can all work together to create something incredible,” Braakman said, noting cycling trails exist at many other national parks, including nearby Point Pelee National Park.

WEBC hopes common ground exists to both preserve trail usage and promote environmental and ecological sustainability.

“Being on the trails actually focuses the human activity in one location [and] keeps people from wandering around in the park,” said Buck. “We believe that it actually improves the environmental sustainability and viability of the area.”

The Windsor-Essex Bike Community has launched a petition to Parks Canada on its website, hoping the government will investigate sanctioning the trail network.

In just 24 hours since the launch of the petition, nearly 500 people have signed onto the cause.

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