The last time we spoke with the president of the Belair ATV Club, Hartley Pokrant, the club was newly formed in Selkirk, Manitoba. They were working to restore a decommissioned railbed as a multi-use trail. The railbed trail—now named Whistle Pig Trail—is currently used by both ATVers and snowmobilers, as well as hikers and bikers.
The trail connects the smaller landlocked communities between Pine Falls and Gull Lake to the beautiful Belair Forest. There were already plenty of ATVers in the area before the trail opened to riders, but it was difficult for them to travel from their communities to the appropriate trails.
Creating The Whistle Pig
Through local fundraising and with the help of the Canadian Off-Highway Vehicle Distributors Council, the Belair ATV Club brought the railbed to riding condition. The section of railbed stretches 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Highway 93 north of Pine Falls to Gull Lake, Manitoba. The work included repairing trestles, installing railings along the trestles and adding signage to the trail.
The railbed is owned by the Rural Municipality (RM) of Alexander but managed by the Belair ATV Club. “We have a wonderful working relationship with the RM of Alexander,” Pokrant said. “They understand that there wouldn’t be enough traffic with only hikers to have a maintained trail. Allowing ATVs provides an opportunity for people to get out of their communities.” Now, everyone benefits.
The club worked hard to raise the funds to restore the trail, install safety railings on the trestles and add signs. — Photo courtesy Hartley Pokrant
A voice for ATVs in Manitoba
ATVing is a popular sport in Manitoba. “There are 42,000 ATVs and side-by- sides in the province,” Pokrant said. “We don’t have a lot of officially designated trails.” Although Manitoba has plenty of trails criss-crossing the backcountry, few are meant for ATVs. “It's not to say the others can’t be driven on, but in terms of being signed and officially designated (the other trails are not),” said Pokrant.
The Whistle Pig Trail leads people from these previously landlocked communities directly to the Belair Forest which has over 400 kilometres (approximately 250 miles) of trails. For the past year and a half, Pokrant has been working with the province to claim about 90 kilometres (56 miles) within the forest as officially designated riding trails. “We were just advised that our request has been approved by the Department of Sustainable Development. We are just waiting for the final agreement,” he said. “Then we will be off to the races this summer installing the signs.”
The next goal is to extend the railbed to East Selkirk, just north of Winnipeg. This would add about 50 kilometres (30 miles) to the Whistle Pig Trail. They are in the process of negotiating with the municipality that owns this adjacent section of the railbed to hopefully acquire the rights to manage it as part of the trail as well. If successful, this trail will allow riders to travel directly from populated Winnipeg all the way to the forested area around Gull Lake, “an extremely rare and unique opportunity,” said Pokrant.
The Whistle Pig Trail is a great place to be on a brilliant autumn day. — Photo courtesy Hartley Pokrant
“We are excited about the potential,” he said. Especially in this area of Manitoba, riding is a lifestyle. The community is already thrilled because the railbed runs through cottage country where lots of people like to explore the outdoors.
The Belair ATV Club hopes to continue to unify the voice of riders in the area to advocate for less restrictive bylaws for ATVs and side-by- sides, so people can travel freely from the communities to designated trails.
Ride the trails
The trails around Belair are all sand-based with plenty of forests. “You have to go out of your way to find mud,” he said. The railbed itself is also smooth riding. When it was decommissioned, they removed all the ties, so all that’s left is essentially a packed gravelled bed. It’s an easy ride from one end to the other. Hopefully, the ride will soon be a little longer than it is now.