The Founding of the Chiang Mai Eco-Cycling Association (CMECA)
Much has been discussed over the past year about the closure of various trails with Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, however there has been little in the way of official communication as to why the trails were closed, what’s being done to re-open them and what are the future plans for mountain biking in Chiang Mai. This article aims to address some of the unanswered questions as well as provide up to date information as to the progress of discussions between the various parties.
History of Trail Closure
For almost a year a ban has been in place on some of the most popular trails on Doi Pui mountain, a ban applicable for all types of mountain bike as well as motorbikes. The most commonly known reason for the closure is because a motorbike was caught on camera riding up a sacred trail known as the Monk’s Trail. Footage of this subsequently led to the National Park placing signs at all major trails forbidding their use. Other lesser known reasons include that surrounding certain trails are homes to unique flora and fauna which are sensitive to human activity. Another is that the National Park wanted to reduce the chance of accidents within the park and finally residents of farms / communities that live within the park occasionally complained about noise near their homes.
What is also not well known among riders is that only 3 trails have ever been authorized for use for mountain biking with Trailhead Thailand and one other company being the only licensed companies. Enforcement has been very lax however and for many years no one questioned who was riding what trail. This was up until 2018 when Doi Suthep-Pui National Park implemented a zero tolerance policy which resulted in the closure of the trails and visible signs banning motorbikes and mountain bikes throughout the National Park. This has led to much confusion among the local riding community as well as visitors to Chiang Mai, as well as frustration with the National Park despite them only enforcing a ban that has in fact been in place for years.
What Was Done at the Time of Closure?
The initial disappointment and negative response of the trail closure will hopefully turn into a positive very soon. Representatives from a number of mountain bike tour companies in Chiang Mai, as well as individuals and business owners discussed met in March 2019 to discuss the issue and to outline a plan to reopen the trails. Furthermore an outline was made not just to open the trails as they were prior to closure, but to improve and develop the sport of mountain biking in Chiang Mai through improved cooperation with the National Park and local communities and through environmental projects to not only maintain the current environment, but to improve it.
From this initial meeting it was decided that an association would be formed called the Chiang Mai Eco – Cycling Association (CMECA) which would be headed by H.S.H Nawaphansa Yugala, founder of Trailhead Thailand. The objectives of the association are as follows:
The objective of Association:
1. To make the Chiang Mai Eco-Cycling Association (CMECA) as a center of cycling activity to benefit the people of Chiang Mai
2. To make Chiang Mai Eco-Cycling Association (CMECA) as a center of the cycling tour business for Thai and Foreigners and to encourage eco-tourism through cycling.
3. To provide a source of information for CMECA members and to enforce guidelines for people who use Doi Pui for recreational biking.
4. To ensure that all trails are litter free and that the environment is not damaged in any way.
5. To make Chiang Mai Eco-Cycling Association (CMECA) as a center of advertising and public relations for eco-tourism through cycling tours for people around the world and to raise the profile of mountain biking in Chiang Mai in general.
6. To ensure that local communities within the National Park that welcome cycling tourists, also benefit from a shared income.
7. To minimize politics from outside influences and to be the voice of mountain biking in Chiang Mai.
What Has Happened Since the Association Was Set Up?
Since Trailhead assumed responsibility for following through with the association commitments, there have been multiple meetings with the government and National Park. In May 2019 Trailhead submitted documents to the government office in Chiang Mai. Within these documents were rules set out by the association, requests to establish the association and summary of association members.
A request was also made in May for tour companies to use the trail known as Gees House and Scout Camp whilst the documentation was being processed, which was subsequently granted.
Trailhead Thailand has made several iterations of the documentation as a result of feedback from the governor between June – September 2019 and at the time of writing (October 2019) a request has been made to the government for feedback for the next step.
What Does the Association Hope to Achieve?
Further to the objectives laid out by the association, the aim is to have all trails accessible to all mountain bikers subject to the objectives agreed on by the association members. Further updates will be made public as and when the government provide feedback. It is the hope of everyone that residents and tourists alike can enjoy the beauty of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park on 2 wheels, however it is important to respect the concerns of the National Park in terms of safety precautions as well as the protection of the fragile environment of which we all get so much joy from. The association aims to bridge the gap between the National Park and trail users by establishing standards and procedures for managing mountain biking activities within the National Park. By doing so, the association hopes to have most trails authorized and developed into a well managed mountain bike destination in South East Asia. The association will also strive to create a community with government cooperation on conservation, eco-tourism and sustainability through the mountain biking activities.
Stay Tuned for Further Updates!