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In 2021 the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) began exploring the possibility of adding Mountain Bike trails to the Holiday Beach Conservation Area. The board of directors along with several doners wanted to add value to the facility through recreation with the understanding that it was critical to do so in a way that aligned with their core values. Creating cycling trails that would allow visitors to explore even more of this beautiful corner of the province made perfect sense.

In the spring of 2022 the director of conservation services, Kevin Money reached out to me after a referral from the Parks Department at the City of Windsor. At the time I was working in Windsor expanding their mountain bike trail network, Kevin visited the site, and I was able to walk him through the basics of planning, designing and constructing a trail. I was able to show him our work and provide some context on the unique challenges we encounter throughout the process. We met again in June, this time I travelled to the Holiday Beach Conservation Area in Amherstburg, Ontario to assess their site for suitability. Through our initial discussions it was decided that the first trail to be considered should be basic, relatively easy and a multi directional loop. I spent the day touring this sprawling park on the shores of Lake Erie with the goal of identifying areas that would support or be appropriate for an entry level mountain bike trail. I consider things like accessibility, topography, drainage, design potential and the overall character of the proposed area. Each of these criteria is first evaluated separately and then combined to determine a consensus. Because of the parks location on Lake Erie several of the proposed sites were within an active flood plane or too close to risk for long term sustainability. Many areas we visited were suitable but because the conservation authority biologists had identified at risk species that needed to be protected these areas were quickly eliminated from consideration. In the end I identified 2 potential areas suitable for construction, ERCA then took my recommendations under advisement and in the end, they concluded that phase 1 of the project should be built within their ten acre pine forest. I prepared a quote for the design and layout of this first trail, they accepted the terms, and the planning phase began.

With a site chosen, a projected trail length of 1 to 2 km and a goal of designing an entry level “Green” trail I visited the site several times that summer to complete my site evaluation. This involved exploring the pine forest with the goal of identifying current drainage patterns, unique topography, soil types and vegetation. Having a feel for the area I then set a build corridor, a 10m wide section of the woodlot where the trail will be laid out. Once the corridor is set, I narrow my focus to lay out the actual trail using flags placed every 5m. This is when I can add character to the trail and utilize some the unique features identified during the site evaluation. When I was satisfied with the layout of the trail I took a GPS, this allowed me to see the total distance achieved and gave me an elevation profile from beginning to end. In August of 2022 I used this GPS data to create a site map of the trail and submitted a cost proposal to ERCA with some project recommendations and a potential schedule for the build.

In October the board of directors authorized our proposal to build a 1.3 km, entry level loop trail at the Holiday Beach Conservation Area. We began construction in early November after a pre construction site visit with conservation staff. Unseasonably warm and dry weather allowed us to complete the trail in just over 3 weeks, the simplicity of the design and lack of complexity in the build process certainly helped to expedite construction. We concluded the project by installing signage on the various posts we set along the trail, these signs provide general guidance to trail users and provide risk mitigation for ERCA. We hosted a final walk through of the trail with ERCA staff and answered questions they had regarding maintenance and future development. With that the project was finished, I want to thank Kevin Money and the entire ERCA staff for the opportunity to complete this project but also the opportunity to work in such an amazing environment as the Holiday Beach Conservation Area, it was truly a pleasure.

Nate Smith, Owner, Dirt by Design Trails Inc.