Just like you say, it's frustrating that they don't seem to give a sh!t. It really is too bad because it's close to Toronto and gets decent snow each year.
I sat on an advisory committee for Albion Hills' management plan (and earlier for Palgrave Forest) so I know some of the people. They really *do* care but it's a multi-sport, multi-purpose park serving the general population with very limited staff and funding. There are a lot of competing priorities and I think they'll always be juggling too many balls. I do think their mountain biking is phenomenal, helped considerably by the hard work of private businesses like Chico Racing and Superfly Racing. There are no comparable champions for the other sports in the park.
People are pushing Albion Hills management from so many directions. They want Albion to "modernize" their mountain bike trails, renovate the Chalet for meetings and weddings, and provide environmental education. Managing the campground requires a lot of work. As Coach LD noted, they get lots of visitors who don't pay for the privilege and just ignore the rules. They have nervous lawyers, e.g. all the ash trees near trails in Palgrave Forest had to be cut down even though the Emerald Ash Borer hadn't arrived yet. On top of that, Albion Hills exists primarily for environmental reasons so those concerns and projects take priority over recreation.
In spite of their challenges, they really *want* to offer "adventure". The snowshoe/bike/skate ski trail is brand new so now is a great time to offer feedback to the park manager to make it better in Year 2 - and maybe in Year 1 too. The target sports for this new trail were really snowshoeing and fat biking, both of which were growing activities in the park. They decided to sacrifice the old skate skiing trail since it was seldom used (I know - chicken and egg) and turn it into a snowshoe/fat bike trail. They figured that skate skiers would still be allowed to use it but they were definitely 3rd on the list.
I don't know what can be done about people who don't have respect for the rules in multi-use areas. Hockleycrest and Palgrave have problems with snowshoers, hikers and trail runners wrecking ski trails too. Unless you're in a private place where you have a lot of control, like Highlands, it's hard to keep people from doing the wrong thing. A surprising number of people feel it's their right to do whatever they want in a conservation area, and a surprising number of grown-ups avoid paying the entry fee.
Anyway, I'd suggest writing the park manager to let him know your feedback on the new trail. (I have contact info if you need it.)
No snowmobiles? That's a plus.
(Glass half full and all that....)
Almost never! They are strictly prohibited and rarely bother to sneak into the local conservation areas.
Snowmobilers up your way must be more law abiding than down this way. Or maybe since they are closer to actual snowmobile trails, they don't feel the urge to ride on conservation area property marked No Snowmobiles.
There probably aren't as many snowmobilers here. We aren't that far from Toronto and a lot of Caledon's residents - particularly in Bolton - are not outdoorsy, other than maybe visiting cottages up north. Coach LD teaches their kids, who are sometimes horrified when Coach makes them - gasp! - hike into the woods. In the rural areas, farmers have snowmobiles but they also have their own fields and forests. Given that most people here would need to load up their snowmobiles on a trailer and drive specifically to a conservation area where they are banned, I guess they figure they may as well drive a little north to real trails. We've only been invaded in Palgrave West on the very snowiest days - and they need to break a fence to get in, which deters most people.
Albion Hills is a darn good conservation area, close to us, a relatively "natural" setting and is well-maintained, with awesome bike trails courtesy of Chico, but it's a business. They make their money off the GTA population - not Caledon. The bosses don't live here. The TRCA could give a rat's ass what the locals want. We don't pay for the place. There aren't enough of us. The masses from the city are the ones paying at the gate. And it's private property unlike what many people think. I've been told by conservation workers that Albion runs itself on gate revenue. They could care less about adventure. You don't build a splash pad for adventure. They make a lot more money than many conservation areas.
I think the people who administer the place don't actually do the activities they say they offer. In the past 25 years there has not been anyone who knows how to groom for skiing, yet they charge as much as Highlands. If they want to have a fat bike/snowshoe trail - great. But don't call it a skate ski trail too. If you offer classic skiing you can't also have people hiking and running on the same trails. One of my concerns is safety. If the people who groom/design the trail system directions etc. were to go out and skate ski following the way the arrows are set up now, with 2 directional sections on steep hills, they would quickly realize it's not only lousy grooming, it's unsafe. And I'm a pretty competent skier. I can't imagine someone just out trying it for the afternoon having fun, not getting hurt. The rental ski equipment is less-than well-maintained. I came across a class of 11 year-olds once and one poor girl had a ski with the entire base peeled off and flapping. No wonder she was crying. She'll never ski again.
As for the non-paying users - they will always exist. That's human nature. I just wish Albion Hills would stop pretending that everyone comes in through the main gate, and put some signs up at the other entrance trails many people use so they at least can't say they don't know the rules, whatever they are. I guess snow is so unpredictable in these parts they hope to capitalize on what meagre amounts they get from as many users as possible. It's not their responsibility or mandate to promote skiing over anything else. They just want to get as many people as possible paying to use the area.
You're right that the TRCA needs to make money. It's an entity established by the government with a primary mandate of watershed conservation and natural resource management but they don't get enough funding to do that work. They are expected (ultimately by us, the taxpayers) to make enough money from their conservation areas to cover a big chunk of their costs.
Albion Hills has been designated by TRCA as a regional destination park. (Pretty much the opposite of Palgrave Forest.) They want people to come to camp, hike and bike. They specifically want to attract urban residents and new Canadians to help them experience and care about nature, not just to collect their $6.50 (although they also want that). I've volunteered with TRCA on and off for years and have seen that they really do care about that sort of thing. Unlike some other TRCA parks, Albion Hills is allowed to have big events like fireworks displays, mud runs and Canada Day concerts. But we have also had to submit orienteering courses to their ecologists to confirm that we're not putting controls in sensitive areas.
There was considerable discussion about the word "adventure" in the recent management plan exercise, and TRCA really wanted it included as one component of their vision. Implementation of the plan is still in the early stages and has only begun to have an impact, e.g. there is a proposal for a mountain bike skills area.
The splashpad, which came earlier, was just a compromise after they made the tough decision to attempt to restore the manmade lake to its original ecology and hopefully improve health of aquatic life downstream. In doing this, they had to give up their beach, which was a huge sacrifice for a place with a campground and canoe rentals, but the environment was a higher priority. The splashpad provided something for parents and kids to do when the beach disappeared.
Compared to city folks who might come a few times a year for $6.50/adult, local residents could and should provide more of the park's income. We've always bought an annual family pass for Albion Hills, currently $135 and it now includes admission to all TRCA and Credit Valley Conservation parks, including Island Lake. It's an incredible deal but I know many local park users don't buy one. As you say, there is a common belief that the land is public, and maybe that's why people feel they shouldn't have to pay.
Another twist is that the TRCA believes in active (human-powered) transportation so anyone who arrives at Albion Hills on foot or bike is permitted to enter for free. The people who park at the rail trail are breaking the rules (unless they have a pass) but if they ride over from Palgrave on the rail trail, that's OK. I agree there should be more signage and that's something we could suggest. I notice they've closed Duffy's Lane south of Patterson this winter so you can't park in there to go skiing.
If people enter the park from the rail trail, there is a sign advising that they can't hike on the ski trails but I haven't noticed other signs. It's not allowed but as we know, most people have no qualms about hiking on ski tracks. Perhaps the best approach is the one used at Hockleycrest, where Dave has built a snowshoe trail to try to lure people off the ski trails. People still trample his trails - but at least there is somewhere for conscientious hikers to go.
Maybe Albion could figure out a way to support winter hikers and runners who don't want to use snowshoes. Maybe we could look at a map and try to figure something out to suggest to them. They close the single track in winter, which is probably a liability issue since they don't clear or patrol those trails in winter. So using those trails would mean an increased cost to support users who mostly don't pay, but maybe it would be worth it to protect the ski trails better.
You're right that few of the people who operate the park do any of the activities offered in Albion Hills. They rely on input from the public, which is why I've been part of these advisory committees. You have a ton of knowledge about skiing so your expert input would be valuable, especially in this first year for the new trail. The truth is, they had decided to convert the old skate skiing trail to fat biking and snowshoeing, and they didn't see a reason that skate skiers should be prohibited from using it. If you feel it's dangerous, they should know although the likely result is that they would decide not to offer skate skiing at all.