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Southlands trail proposal pits horses against people

Members of the city’s only farming neighbourhood are divided over whether a proposed new trail network should be primarily for…

By Darryl Hol , in City Feature story , on October 21, 2013 Tags: , ,

A horse rider shares the road with a passing vehicle.
Riders like Marta Modzelewska have to share a narrow Southlands road with vehicles.

Members of the city’s only farming neighbourhood are divided over whether a proposed new trail network should be primarily for horses or for pedestrians and cyclists too.

“The trails have to serve pedestrians and equestrians,” said Southlands resident Larry Killam, who has driven the fractious campaign to make the trails wide enough so that people as well as horses can use them.

This view is in contrast to initial designs that called for narrow trails running alongside property lines. The primary objective of these trails was getting horses from local stables to the Southlands Riding Club.

Southlands, tucked into the southwest corner of Vancouver, is famous for its prominent equestrian community. Yet the horsey set’s influence is waning as wealthy newcomers are drawn to the area’s sizeable lots rather than its horses.

Large new homes are taking shape throughout the neighbourhood, and the accompanying construction traffic crowds the narrow roads.

“Just about every rider that you talk to will have a story,” said Larry Emrick, referring to conflicts between vehicles and riders. The Southlands resident and avid rider had a confrontation with a gravel truck driver a few weeks ago.

“He got out of his truck and I thought he was going to come after me,” he said.

Money for trails given in 2005

A series of bridle trails running alongside the roads was first proposed as a solution in the 1960s.

The proposal built momentum in 2005 when a developer contributed $1.28-million to the city for trails as part of a residential-development proposal.

A horse is removed from the ditch.
Neighbours rally to remove a horse from a ditch in Southlands. (Photo: Sissy von Dehn)

But as planning for the trails progressed, it became clear that there was no consensus in the neighbourhood over who the trails should be for, and therefore, what form they should take.

“It seems really a shame that we can’t agree on what to do,” said Jane Remocker, who stepped down from the city’s trail planning committee nearly a year ago. She said it became clear there were two very different visions for the trails.

Division in the community came to the fore at an open house held by city planners in October last year.

Since then, no one has heard a word about what those planners will recommend for the trail system or even when they will make a decision.

That has some community members concerned that there is still nothing to show for the funds that were committed to this project more than eight years ago.

“People legitimately are saying, ‘What’s happened, if anything? What have they been doing with the money? Is there anything left?’” said Emrick.

Real dangers for horse riders

While the wait goes on, members of the equestrian community point to the very real danger that exists for both horse and rider on the narrow roads.

Local rider Marta Modzelewska had a scare last June when the horse she was riding was startled by a passing cement truck. She was thrown off and the horse ended up in the ditch.

Her first call was to Margot Vilvang who – after helping nearly twenty horses out of Southlands ditches over the years – knows better than anyone how important it is to get these trails built.

“People just can’t get along, and it’s just to their own detriment,” she said, referring to the current impasse. “It’s really a shame.”