A community activist is trying to rid High Park of a rowdy BMX biker presence that he says is damaging sacred indigenous grounds.
Local Adrian Rhodes has taken up cause for the southern portion of High Park, near Parkside Drive and the Queensway, where he says young cyclists are digging up the ground to build dirt bike ramps.
Beyond it being an environmental issue, Rhodes said there are major safety concerns.
“If someone gets hurt while biking through there, who’s going to be held responsible?” he said.
At the end of August, the city placed three signs in the area declaring that bicycling was not allowed.
But signs have all since been damaged, one of which has had part of it torn off, and the rest folded in half.
The city also put up barriers with signs that say there is no access to that part of High Park. The barriers have been repeatedly knocked down. Empty and crushed beer cans have also been found on the site.
Kevin Bowser, manager of parks for the Etobicoke York District, said no one is permitted in that part of High Park and staff is working with the police to enforce the law.
“We’ve got police who are very active in that area as well,” he said. “The bike patrol from 11 Division go by and when they see people in there, they’ll ask them to leave the area.”
Rhodes and friend Shawn Gill, who is of both Chippewa and Cree descent, are especially concerned for the property because they feel the cultural history of the land is being neglected.
It’s believed the ramps are being built on what is known to Indigenous people as Snake Mound. The presence of red ochre on the site indicates to them that it was once used for burial ceremonies.
Bowser said the city did at one time look into the history of the land and found no proof that the land was actually a burial ground at one time.
Regardless, the area is still used for Indigenous ceremonies. One took place most recently on Oct. 23. But Gill is adamant the land is sacred.
“Every time I come here I feel all the anger, all the sorrow and the pain (the ancestors) have gone through. Even when I’m trying to do ceremony here, (the bikers) affect my ceremony. I can just feel the energy here and it’s not great,” he said. “You can take down the jumps, you can take down the ramps and all that, you can do as much ceremony as you can, but not unless the bikers are gone will this place be able to heal in the proper way.”
Bowser says the city is currently working on an assessment of the area, which should be complete in early next year. At that time, he says the city will be able to make recommendations on what to do with the site.
“It’s more than one spring’s worth of work,” he said. “That area has probably been used for biking for 20-30 years. So we’re assessing the area, particularly what damages are ongoing with mature trees.”
Rhodes says that all along, he’s had a solution that he feels could appease both the cyclists and the activists, and that’s just to have a full-blown BMX park at another location.
“We’ll even help you build your ramps,” he said. “We’re just asking that you don’t do it here.”
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