Copeland Forest: 2012 and looking forward
Mountain biking was once again an important topic for consideration, and as a viable recreational activity in Copeland Forest, the latest meeting with the Couchiching Conservancy looked to find what the recreational community would prioritize for Copeland's future.
Some history first: Copeland Forest, which is managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), entered into an agreement with the Couchiching Conservancy to facilitate a program to provide the community with a voice on the future management of Copeland Forest. This process functions through a Stewardship Committee, made up of recreational stakeholders and other parties of interest that over the next 3 years, will create a Stewardship Management Plan. As outlined in Jason Murray’s Blog entry about the Open House with the mountain biking community in October of 2011 (see: http://www.imbacanada.com/blog/simcoe-region ), the Couchiching Conservancy was eager to foster involvement from as many stakeholder groups as possible, with mountain bikers encouraged to have a say at the table. That was a year ago and although mountain biking in the Barrie and Simcoe County area has progressed significantly within the last season, what it means for Copeland Forest into the future is still a work in progress.
Lots of Challenges and Opportunities identified for Copeland Forest
I attended the meeting on Nov. 3 at Horseshoe Resort, the latest call to participate, to discuss the criteria and recommendations that will define those to be communicated into the Stewardship Plan. Of the approx. 140 people, 20+ mountain bikers joined in the conversations to foster collaborative efforts and initiatives with the other stakeholders (equestrians, hikers, trail runners, to name a few).
The meeting was based on an open space concept and sought to have individuals rally specific topics of importance, vision and priority. With such a diverse group of people, the conversations were multi-faceted, but as everyone hoped, all were respectful of each other. Thinking back to the meeting as I write this, I’m still astounded and impressed with the willingness to hear each other’s perspectives, and the belief that everyone could work together to find common ground in enjoying and managing Copeland Forest together. While I may be thinking with an idealist’s perspective, I couldn’t negate, nor overlook that every conversation I attended, had the majority of participants nodding in agreement, when asked if they were willing to work together. I’m not saying everyone agreed 100% of the time, but the intent to work together was always there.
One thing that did stand out – a local mountain bike club stood up and accepted the challenge of harnessing and rallying the mountain bike community as a unified voice. The Barrie Cycling Club (BCC), already having signed a land use agreement for stewardship over a trail network in the Simcoe County Forests, encouraged the mountain bikers at the meeting to join with them, and act as the liaison with the Couchiching Conservancy initiative and for the future management of the Copeland Forest. Truly a monumental step forward, we are finally seeing the mountain bike community progress and accept the advocacy and stewardship role that has been so lacking in this particular region. This is and will be, the defining role in shaping mountain bike trail access for years to come. Glad I was there to see it happen!
Comments summarized from the group discussions
A link to the Copeland Forest Open Forum Group Reports can be found here: http://www.couchichingconserv.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Copeland-Open-Forum-Reports-for-Web.pdf
Thanks again to all of the mountain bikers who were at the meeting, the BCC, and to Dorthea Hangaard from the Couchiching Conservancy for inviting and keeping us at the table.
Looking forward to future meetings and to keeping the conversation active, supportive and most of all, collaborative!
For more information on the Couchiching Conservancy, or the Copeland Forest Stewardship Committee, please contact Dorthea Hangaard (dorthea [at] couchconservancy [dot] ca)