A group of equestrian riders is channeling their outrage into a letter-writing campaign targeted at the province.
At issue is the proposed welcoming of motorized vehicles such as ATVs to the Souris Bend Wildlife Management Area’s southern trails.
A phone call from a "power that be" from the province Thursday made it sound like it was a done deal, said Myna Margetts, who has has managed the area’s equestrian trails for the past few decades.
"He made it sound like there was no input on our side at all and that this was going to happen," she said, adding this was the first time she’d heard of the proposal. "This is without any consultation."
The Sun reached out to government spokespeople for comment during the long weekend, but no response came by Monday.
The "done deal" attitude floored Margetts, who in addition to managing the trails sits on the board of an area conservation district.
"Any time we have public land changing use, we have to have public meeting consultations, and none of that was done," she said.
"It’s really starting to make me boil that we have sanctioned trials there for nearly 30 years, and … they’re going to take our trails and not even consult with us."
In general, she said ATVs and equestrian riders do not mix.
She still remembers a frightening instance last year, when a loud dirt bike spooked the horse she was riding.
The animal spun 180 degrees and bolted in the other direction.
"I just barely stayed on," she said. "I’m a fairly good rider, but I lead 4-H groups in there and other pleasure riders — occasional riders — and if that happened to them, they’d be on the ground in a flash."
Trail user Gail Campbell said it’s a scenic piece of nature and she understands why other users would want to enjoy it.
The land is located midway between Nesbitt and Margaret, where equestrian riders have cut approximately 50 kilometres of trails for pleasure and endurance rides.
Campbell lives approximately 10 miles from the trails and considers them her favourite place to ride, visiting them as frequently as possible.
Although understanding of their desire to experience this landscape, Campbell said allowing motorized vehicles is an accident waiting to happen.
"It’s tough," she said. "The worst part is, the trails were developed by equestrians for equestrians, and now they want to take them away from us without consulting us.
"This just came out of the blue — I had no idea that was going to happen, and they say they’ve been lobbied by the ATV groups. That’s fine, but when are they going to ask for our input?"
A letter-writing campaign erupted during the weekend, in response to Margetts making the news public on the Friends of Souris Bend Facebook page.
"We shouldn’t have to share the few trails we have with machines that pollute the environment, cause immense damage and do not respect equestrians or hikers on designated trails," wrote Nicole Falk.
"I’m concerned not only about damage to the area, but also about the safety of myself and the many other equestrians, who use these trails as a safe place to ride and get away from the traffic, to enjoy the beauty of the land we have around us," wrote Kristen Vincent May.
Common themes include concerns about riders’ safety and environmental degradation.
Although ATVs are currently limited to six short trails into the area meant to allow hunters access to retrieve game, Margetts said some riders have taken to motoring down all available trails they’re able to traverse, even though they’re not allowed.
Some riders are respectful, she said, while others toss beer cans, cut new trails into the bush, discard trail maps paid for by equestrian riders, make a mess of trails and scare riders.
The prevailing concern is that letting more motorized vehicles onto the trail system will make things worse, Margetts said.
"You can say it’s multi-use, but pretty soon it’s just the ATVers who go there."
The Sun reached out to the ATV Association of Manitoba during the long weekend, but did not receive a response by Monday’s deadline.
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB