After Pemberton resident Dean Linnell had a close encounter with a cougar during a Test of Metal pre-ride in Crumpit Woods on June 10, race organizers were left with little time to help assure riders and spectators that all was safe on the trails.
According to Test Pilot Ross Smith, it quickly became a high priority for those involved with the race.
"It was really of great concern to us," he said. "To have one of our registered riders have a scary incident like that caused us a lot of concern. We decided to take responsibility quickly to ensure safety for everyone involved."
Smith said it was especially important because racers could be vulnerable during that portion of the race.
"Cougars are known to attack sick or weak prey and a lot of our riders, when they enter that habitat at that point in the race, probably look pretty tired and weak," he said.
Smith pointed out that the objectives for the organizing crew were to protect riders, volunteers, spectators and cougars while they were accessing and interfering with the cougar's habitat during the race.
The group used signs to inform and educate riders and fully informed every rider of Linnell's encounter and the possibility that they could have a similar experience. Test of Metal Inc. also provided an audible and visible presence in the area, with motorcycle trail riders circling the affected area throughout the day. Emergency whistles were also provided to riders who might be vulnerable or separated from the pack during the race.
The cougar patrol, which was comprised of Spencer and Jared Fitscher, helped ensure the safety of the riders and Smith thanked Century Signs, Silverfoot Active Wear, Goodwin Studios and Mark's Work Wearhouse for their help in getting the patrol organized.
There were no reported cougar encounters during the 2011 Test of Metal, in part thanks to the efforts of the cougar patrol. Meanwhile, Linnell finished 22nd in his 40 to 44 age group, with a time of 3:20:48.4.
Those who spot a cougar, bear or other wildlife are encouraged to phone the 24-hour Ministry of Environment hotline at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).