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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

ACRE bans bikes on its Chelsea trails

The last thing ACRE wanted to do was ban mountain biking on its trails throughout Chelsea. 

But when its insurance company “refused to cover mountain biking,” the environmental organization said it had no choice but to ban the popular Chelsea sport. 

“When we started the process of acquiring lands, we were under the impression that we were covered for all activities on our lands,” said Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment (ACRE) board member Olaf Jensen during a public meeting on March 27. “In February 2023, we were informed by our insurer that we were covered for all activities, except biking – all biking activities.”

Close to 85 mountain biking enthusiasts filled a room on the Meredith Centre’s second floor during the meeting, where they were apprised of ACRE’s short-term plan of placing prohibitive signs along popular mountain biking trails in the Larrimac area, including the Jolicoeur-McMartin, Larrimac and the Dionne-Wilson Forests. 

“This is not like the desired state for ACRE; it's not something we've tried to achieve,” Jensen told the crowd. “We were very surprised by this. I think most of us feel that there's a misunderstanding [by insurance companies] of what biking is all about.

According to Jensen, ACRE pays approximately $500 per year to insure hiking, walking, cross-coutnry skiing and snowshoeing activities on its trails throughout the municipality. However quotes to include mountain biking along these same trails – trails that locals have cycled on for more than 20 years – range between $6,000 and $20,000 per year. Jensen told the crowd that without insurance the organization couldn’t risk a potential lawsuit if a biking accident occurred on one of its properties.

“While the probability of an accident is low, and the probability of being sued for an accident is low, the potential impact is that there are legal fees that would have to be incurred to defend against the lawsuit,” said Jensen. “And if a suit were successful, we would potentially have to sell some or all of our assets to be able to pay for those fees.”

ACRE member Marie-Claude Osterrath told the crowd that mountain biking is not the only activity being targeted, saying insurance companies are “making it impossible” for houseboat owners and other activities they deem “high risk.”

“There is a big change going on in the insurance landscape,” she said. “Less and less insurance companies are willing to invest in what they consider risky activities. It's not just biking, but it's kind of across the board a new phenomenon that's happening with insurance companies.”

Some mountain bikers in attendance expressed their concern with the loss of trails they had been riding for two decades (some spots were formerly technically considered trespassing, while others came with verbal agreements with landowners).

But now that ACRE has acquired these lands to conserve in perpetuity, some said they worry that the land-use agreements, which protect activities such as hiking, cross-country skiing and biking, won’t be honoured. 

Chelsea mountain biker Derek Medland told the Low Down that his biggest concern is creating animosity between trail users, especially when the “bikes prohibited” signs go up. While ACRE won’t be actively enforcing the ban, he hopes that all trail users – walkers and cyclists – can remain “civil.”

“I think people are concerned that it’s just going to invite confrontation between user groups, and that’s not right,” said Medland. “A lot of mountain bikers and fat bikers do a lot of the trail work back there but also contributed a lot of money under the understanding that the usage wasn’t going to change.”

Medland said he appreciates the work ACRE has done on the file and feels confident that riders in Chelsea will come together to find a solution to raise money and maintain the trails. However, he agreed that there is still a lot of work to do to get the trails to an insurable level, both from a “functional and governance” perspective.

For ACRE’s part, it told the crowd that it is still committed to “maintaining the existing uses on the trails.” However, for now, mountain biking is prohibited until an insurance solution is found. 


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