The sabotaged bridge, after it had been (deliberately) knocked down by Ted Ingram and some other cyclists. Photo by Timothy Charles, originally posted on the Dropmachine forums.
Don Valley mountain bikers are growing increasingly worried, and with good reason: someone has been sabotaging their trails, for the apparent purpose of causing serious injury to riders.
The issue began to attract attention both within and outside the mountain biking community last Friday afternoon, when Ted Ingram, a long-time Don Valley biker, sent an email to cyclists warning them of damage to a wooden bridge on a certain Don Valley mountain biking trail.
“If that bridge had failed while you were riding across it, you would not have walked out of there. This was a deliberate act to injure someone,” said Ingram. He added that the Don Valley has been popular with mountain bikers for almost thirty years, and that the trails currently have thousands of users.
The nature of the damage to the bridge was subtle. Rather than simply breaking or removing the wooden structure, the culprit used a saw to cut most of the way through its supporting beams, leaving the bridge standing but weakened to the point where it might have given way under the weight of a rider. If that had actually occurred before Ingram noticed the cuts—it didn’t—the length of the drop to the ground below for the unlucky cyclist would have been a few feet. For someone riding at high speed, there’s no telling what the outcome might have been.
Farther along the trail, a second bridge had some of its wooden rungs ripped off, making it unusable. The damage was obvious enough that cyclists could have spotted and avoided it.
The bridges were built by volunteers involved in the local mountain biking community, and not by the City; the first person to respond to the damage was a member of the Toronto Offroad Bicycling Association (TORBA), who repaired and replaced the cut bridge over the weekend.
The damage to the sabotaged bridge. Photo by Ted Ingram.
There have been other instances of damage to Don Valley mountain biking trails. In 2008, a rider discovered a metal chain stretched across a trail, apparently to act as a kind of roadblock. Last winter, the very same bridges as those tampered with last week were damaged, but in a manner obvious enough for cyclists to steer clear of: one was sawed completely apart, and the other had some slats removed.
The two bridges are far from the only volunteer-built infrastructure along the Don Valley mountain bike trail network. In fact, the vast majority of the Don Valley’s mountain biking areas were established informally, by bikers, who continue to maintain them. The only exception is a small length of trail in the Crothers’ Woods area of the Valley, where the City, beginning in 2004, has partnered with the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) to lead public trail-building workshops.
Ted Ingram estimates the total length of the trails addressed by the City and IMBA at around four kilometres. “And there’s approximately eighty kilometres of trail in the ravine,” he said.
The lack of City involvement in mountain bike trail maintenance has been a periodic source of concern. A 2007 report prepared by environmental consultants for the City [PDF] acknowledges that mountain bikers “are the predominant user group of the Don Valley trails,” but doesn’t go so far as to condone the construction of unnatural trail features. “Unauthorized building of technical trail features (TTFs) and dirt jumps in the forest for mountain biking present management and liability issues for the City of Toronto,” says the study. “The presence of these structures and ongoing building of dirt jumps demonstrates the need for a City sanctioned mountain bike skills park in the area.” The emergence of anonymous vandals with an apparent interest in destroying these unauthorized structures stands to make matters worse.
Mountain bikers have been trying to maintain some level of formal partnership with the City. “It’s something that was completely off the radar for the City until about five years ago,” said Alastair Patterson, president of TORBA, which has since its inception roughly five years ago been one of the only organized bodies performing trail maintenance on the parts of the Valley the City hasn’t yet involved itself in.
“There isn’t really much we can do other than ask people to keep an eye out,” he said.
Ingram said that he personally had tried reaching out to the City, but without success: “I tried for years and years, because of my connection with the Don, but it’s like banging your head against the wall.” Torontoist’s calls to the City’s department of Parks and Recreation were not immediately returned.
The motivations of the person (or people) responsible for the deliberate trail damage are still unknown. “It’s sort of hard to understand why someone is trying to hurt people using those trails,” said Patterson.
The City has been notified about the situation by several people, as have Toronto Police. Constable Scott Mills, a TPS social media officer, told Torontoist that “we will take this seriously and look into it.” Anyone with information can direct it to the Toronto Police Service’s Twitter or call 416-808-2222.