Gibson Lake is seen here near Kokanee Glacier Park. A local group has cleared a trail into the park. Photo: Sandy Leonard

Gibson Lake is seen here near Kokanee Glacier Park. A local group has cleared a trail into the park. Photo: Sandy Leonard

Road access to parks worries local Kootenay volunteer group

The Friends of West Kootenay Parks Society has opened a trail to Kokanee Glacier Park

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A group of local volunteers has cleared a section of the old Enterprise Creek Trail into Kokanee Glacier Park and is inviting the public to make use of it.

A work party from the Friends of West Kootenay Parks Society (FWKP) spent part of the summer re-opening the section of the trail to Tanal Lake. This section links up with the final two kilometres to Enterprise Pass, cleared last year by BC Parks staff, and thus restores access to the core area of Kokanee Glacier Park.

“We’re basically a group of people who are volunteering our time and effort to do all the things Parks does not have a budget for,” says Ron Groom, a FWKP member. “We realized that with a bit of effort you can clean this back up and make it a really nice hike again. And I like walking around the bush with a chainsaw, cleaning things up.”

Hiking enthusiasts say it’s a beautiful trail, with kilometres of old growth and views of waterfalls, lakes and, this time of year, slide paths filled with colourful trees.

The road to the park is accessible up to about the three-kilometre mark, then a rock barrier closes it to regular vehicle traffic for another eight kilometres to the park border. It is still navigable on bike, ATV, or on foot past the barrier, Groom says. The area cleared off by the Friends starts at the park border.

Bigger issue

FWKP say the Enterprise Creek Forest Service Road is an example of the overall neglect of B.C.’s backcountry road system. Over the last several years, this neglect has been reducing access to public parks and recreation areas.

The historic road, which starts between Slocan and New Denver, has a long and interesting history, with use by pioneers, explorers, miners and loggers – and over the past several decades, recreational users and park visitors.

The road reaches into the high country 12.5 kilometres to the Kokanee Glacier Park boundary, but the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) each have a say in its operations, along with the road tenure holder (currently Interfor). That is where the complications begin. The road has been closed to regular vehicle traffic since 2007, when nature closed it with a combination of wildfire and subsequent debris flow near the eight-kilometre mark.

The road’s troubles mirror what’s happened to other road access into the core area of the park, which is down to just one regularly maintained route in and out, after three other roads (including Enterprise Creek FSR) have been allowed to deteriorate.

“This situation doesn’t promote tourism, reliability, safety or much else. Someone described the current road use on the Enterprise FSR as anarchy,” says Dave Smith, a member of the trails committee of the FWKP.

“In the last 15-to-20 years or so, a noticeable deterioration and deactivation of FSRs has occurred, some of it justified, some of it highly questionable, as is the case with Enterprise Creek FSR,” says Smith. “Unfortunately, this coincides with a surge in backcountry recreation, from hunting and fishing to hiking, camping, climbing and skiing.”

And FWKP is worried access is going to get worse. Interfor, the logging company with a timber licence off Enterprise Creek FSR, is bringing a section of the road up to condition for hauling logs. However, Smith says he’s been told the road will be deactivated as soon as Interfor is done with a planned timber harvest.

“Thus, another long-standing park access road will be denied to local and outside visitors who don’t have an ATV, because deactivation usually results in impassable conditions for the average passenger vehicle or truck,” he says.

FWKP is advocating for protection of the Enterprise Creek and other forest service roads as important accesses to local parks – for recreation, but also for the economy.

“[Tourists] spend money outside their home areas, and it has been shown that BC Parks generate money for the province through tourism and continue to do so on a rising curve,” says Smith. Without proper road maintenance, “… eventually, your visitors become limited to locals, so the government is eliminating out-of-province visitors from the potential tourism dollar stream, which makes little sense.”

FWKP also say having access to more than one route in or out of the park makes sense in case of emergencies like flooding or forest fires.

Smith says FWKP is developing a case for guaranteeing reliable access to parks over existing forest service roads. He says it’s a bit premature to be discussing their plans, but they are drawing on past work by groups like the Kootenay Mountaineering Club, digging up economic research to support their case, and figuring out just which ministry is the best to approach with their ideas.

Smith says they realize this is a hard time to be bringing up the issue, with the COVID-19 pandemic hammering government budgets.

“We are trying to preserve a legacy for future generations to enjoy, without over-extending the public purse,” he says.

Smith says FWKP welcomes public input on the issue.

– Valley Voice

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