Giving riders a voice in Alberta’s backcountry
Civic minded and committed to volunteerism, Garry Salekin looks forward to being outdoors and riding on the trails in southern Alberta. A self-proclaimed outdoors man, Garry enjoys hunting, fishing and random camping (also known as rustic or open camping).
Off-road vehicles are the perfect way for him to access the beautiful and rugged terrain of the Alberta backcountry. Garry has been riding off-road for over 30 years. “Growing up in the Bow Valley, I did some dirt biking with family and friends, but I become more involved once my two sons were old enough to enjoy riding – then we made it part of camping trips and weekend fun,” reminisces Garry. Although his sons are now in their mid-30s, they still enjoy camping and riding together as a family.
About 14 years ago during a family camping trip, Garry saw the work that needed to be done on his local trails. That’s when he decided to get involved. His commitment went beyond trail maintenance; Garry was one of the co-founders of the Calgary ATV Riders Association and then went on to start up another not-for-profit called The Eastern Slopes ATV Society. He was impressed with the many people that came together to support both organizations.
During his leadership roles in the off-road community, Garry has helped to bring user groups together, secure funding and grants, and personally volunteers his time to help realize numerous projects and initiatives.
The most rewarding experience for Garry was the very first bridge he built. In 2007 many different user groups, including motorcyclists, 4×4 and ATV riders, came together to install an 80-foot engineered bridge along Hunter Valley Road in the Ghost Public Land Use Zone. This dedicated group spent every weekend together over two months constructing the bridge so off-road vehicles could safely travel over the creek. For Garry it comes back to stewardship, protecting the environment and sustainability of these trails for future generations. Over the years Garry has helped to build 30 bridges!
“It’s amazing to see what you can accomplish,” says Garry. He’s proud of the hard work they do and seeing the completed project. With much of the work they do there is a physical legacy left behind in the community for all trail users to enjoy.
He’s also proud of the partnerships they have developed. The Government of Alberta worked with them and has supplied the bridges for these projects.
Garry’s role in advocacy really began when the Alberta Off Highway Vehicle Association (AOHVA) approached him to join the board in 2009. Garry has been their treasurer ever since. The AOHVA focuses on education, safety, and the restoration and revitalization of trails and associated facilities on public and private land throughout the province. Alberta is the only province that has off-road motorcycles, quads and side by sides together in one united organization.
Garry says there’s no end to the issues and initiatives they work on. Some of the top priorities that are important to AOHVA include safety education and training, access to public land and implementing a sustainable funding model. But ultimately it comes down to advocating for his fellow riders. “We are a provincial voice that represents all off-road riders, and a voice to speak with government at a higher level,” explains Garry.
AOHVA is working on developing a trail pass to help support the important work being done. Other provinces require a trail pass to ride on trails, which provides organizations with sustainable funding for building and maintaining trails. In Alberta they currently rely on volunteers, donations and grants to make that happen.
Another issue important to Garry is environmental stewardship so there are sustainable trails for future generations to enjoy. The AOHVA runs a program through schools to help educate kids about operating off-highway vehicles in a safe, respectful and environmentally friendly manner. In this proactive program, instructors visit schools and teach students from Grades 1 to 12 all across the province about how to be respectful of other trail users and respectful of the land. They have received government funding to make this program happen, and it has been well received by the schools and students.
Garry takes pride in the hard work and positive impact they are having in Alberta. “We are family, friends, neighbours and newcomers that enjoy the great outdoors, camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, riding the trails – always taking care while we have fun.” By building bridges and making connections in the community their hope is for everyone to have an opportunity to experience Alberta’s beautiful backcountry.
Off-Road Stories is a series by the Motorcyclists Confederation of Canada’s Off-Road Council to tell the real stories of off-road motorcyclists across Canada. It shares interesting stories of remarkable everyday off-road riders, showcases the valuable work they are doing in our communities and the positive impact of their efforts.