Mike Planes and I made the trip yesterday up to Cumberland, where we met several of our Sooke friends, and many dozens of our friends from throughout the mountain biking community of this fair Island.
The event was the Dodge City Downhill, (DCDH) and is one of my favourite mountain bike events of the year. Not only is the course exceptionally well prepared, fast and fun, but the community of Cumberland sets the gold standard for communities all over B.C. when it comes to involvement and support. The number one factor which makes this so doable, is their community owned forest. Their mountain bike park is owned by the community and everyone benefits from this; the residents have a world class, signed and mapped trail system to use freely and all the local businesses benefit from the ongoing local tourism that it helps to generate, promote and support. The other, less tangible, factor is the cohesiveness that the community of Cumberland seems to have. I think this cohesiveness comes from the fact that many people, from the various sectors of the community, pitch in as volunteers because it’s fun and it’s just the thing to do.
I can’t help but pine for a future like this in Sooke. We have almost everything we need; an established tourism trade, a great many young families and young people who are into the outdoors, an active mountain bike club, (The Sooke Bike Club – SBC) and most importantly; a community owned mountain bike park. Now, when I say ‘community owned’, our situation is a little different from Cumberland’s. Our publicly owned mountain bike park, Harbourview, is actually owned by the Capaital Regional District (CRD) and managed by CRD Parks. To say that we, as citizens, own it is true, but we share that ownership with the whole CRD. It belongs to the people of Saanich or Oak Bay as much as it belongs to the people of Sooke. However, it is within Sooke’s boundaries which means Sooke will get the majority of benefit from it. The best part is that this property is paid for by an entire region and not solely by Sooke, and that is no small thing. It means a well managed park, with signage and all the other benefits, at minimal costs to the citizens of the District of Sooke where the park is located.
Harbourview Park is not yet open. I don’t know why this is, but I feel that if Sooke were to say to the CRD, ‘hey, we’d like to help get this park open. We have a lot to gain, and time is ticking by — what can we do to help?’ Then we might see that park open this season. The Sooke Bike Club is certainly prepared to do its part to help move things along, but I feel that political will within Sooke is lacking, even though community will for it is strong.
Yesterday, seeing all those young people taking part in the race, (and making me look especially old and slow) I felt a twinge of sadness at some of the senseless deaths of young people I’ve been in contact over the years while I’ve been in Sooke. I know in my heart that physical activities like mountain biking can rescue young people from the other dangers of youth, and I know this because mountain biking rescued me.