by Jack Bryceland
In October of 2010 the Outdoor Recreation Council (ORC) held a workshop titled ‘Working Together: Finding Solutions to Regional and Community Trail Issues’. Over the two-day period there were examples of problems and there were examples of solutions; both local and international. If I can suggest that there was one simple take-away from that workshop, it would be this: The various recreational user groups need to talk to one another! What a surprise? How come nobody has ever suggested that before? What would relationship counselors say? Can anyone prove that talking together works? etc., etc.). OK, so humans are slow to learn and slow to change. But hey! We can learn and we can change!
That painful learning became the ad – hoc, self-titled Chilliwack River Valley Trails Association (CRVTA). We met, monthly, in a local coffee-shop and tried to talk about where we had user conflicts in the valley and how we might resolve them. For those of you unfamiliar with the Chilliwack River Valley (CRV) let me give you a quick digest: it has big mountains; a wild river; many isolated lakes; old logging roads taking you to spectacular views; great fishing, second only to the Thompson for steelhead; aboriginal use going back ten thousand years; Fraser River Gold Rush trails; and is an outdoor playground for many thousands of Metro Vancouver residents)
We wanted to be inclusive of all the recreational users in the CRV. We wanted them to be a member of a club which was a member of a provincial association and we wanted just one person to represent each group. But then reality intruded and we ended up with maybe two, or more, from some user groups Was that a real problem? We decided not! Then there was the question of: should the District Recreation Officer (Mike Peters) be part of the meetings? Initially we felt that his inclusion would cause us to keep asking him questions; therefore, although we informed him of what we were discussing, we only occasionally invited him to a meeting. After a year of coffee-shop meetings the limitations of the venue became obvious. Also obvious was the fact that the inclusion of Mike Peters was an improvement. Therefore we moved the meeting location to the offices of the Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO). That is where we have been ever since, still meeting monthly.
The other change that occurred at that time was an expansion of our area of interest. Mike felt that we could be a sounding board and possibly give him advice on his whole district. In case you are unclear on the extent of the Chilliwack Forest Recreation District; it extends from Bowen Island in the west to Manning Park in the east; from the International Boundary in the south to the top of Harrison Lake in the north: an area of 1.4 million hectares. There was some initial doubt among the group about whether, even collectively, we had sufficient knowledge and experience to provide sound advice. However, by keeping open lines of communication with other clubs and groups, and with our provincial organizations, we are steadily becoming more effective in that regard. In keeping with the change of area, we gave ourselves a change of name and became the Chilliwack Recreation Advisory Group.
We are not a registered society; do not have officers; and our membership is by tacit agreement only. The composition of the group is therefore flexible, and not everyone turns up to every meeting, but we strive to maintain a spectrum of the recreational users. Currently we have one caver, one para-glider, two mountain-bikers, two hikers/climbers, one Trans Canada Trail (TCT) representative, two equestrians, two kayakers, two snowmobilers, one four-wheel-drive enthusiast, four motorcyclists and four quad riders. We are managing to keep a balance in the discussions of motorized and non-motorized.
Two groups: the fish and game club and the field naturalists declined an offer to be a part of the meetings, and we decided against having a ratepayers group in the meetings since they are not essentially recreational users.
So, in three years of meetings, have we accomplished anything?
On a simple level we have improved communication between the diverse recreational users of the Chilliwack Forest District. We have also improved communication between the recreational users and industry, aboriginal peoples, local government and parks by having guest speakers invited to the meetings. They present and then we question.
Initially there were two very obvious conflicts which are now behind us. Firstly we came to an agreement about use of a section of the TCT by motorized users: a viable solution until the TCT can create a non-motorized greenway for that section. Secondly we persuaded the District Manager to have the Department of National Defense remove three gates that were limiting recreational access. Thirdly, although it was not a conflict, Mike Peters managed to have 14 trails re-established.
(Here’s a ‘quickie’ on ‘establishment’: it is sometimes called ‘gazetted’ or ‘managed’. The word used in the 1979 Ministry of Forests Act was ‘designated’. In that Act it stated “a recreation site or recreation trail designated under section 104 that is within a provincial forest shall not be used or occupied for a purpose that the regional manager considers is incompatible with use for recreation purposes”. There have been many changes since then but the essential intention of ‘designated’ is carried forward today by ‘established’. However the current Forests and Range Practices Act (FRPA) introduces an added wrinkle. Although the Act initially endorses the 1979 Act’s rule of ‘restriction on incompatible use’ it then throws in the killer phrase “if the minister is of the opinion that the establishment, variance or cancellation of the order does not significantly affect the public, the minister does not have to publish a notice in the newspaper”. Therefore what you had long thought of as an established trail can be dis-established by the minister without public notice.)
Essentially CRAG’s success will be proven by a lack of future conflicts since we hope to anticipate potential problems and nip them in the bud. There are however many issues of recreational concern even if not ones with conflict potential. The list is long but here are a few of them: trail establishment, trail signage and maintenance, the future of resource roads, trail and area mapping, balancing First Nations` concerns, resource extraction trail damage, designated parking areas on resource roads, garbage dumping by non-recreational users, clarifying then encouraging agreements with MFLNRO, how Independent Power Projects will affect recreational use, etc. etc.
There is ‘an elephant in the room’: all the recreational tasks that need to be accomplished in the Chilliwack Forest/Recreation District have to done by only two people: the Recreation Officer Mike Peters and the Recreation Technician Marina Dunn. Even if they foreswore sleeping and worked seven days a week they would have a difficult time clearing the backlog far less taking on the legitimate recreational suggestions of the CRAG group. In February of 2013 the Outdoor Recreation Council wrote to Minister Steve Thomson of MFLNRO regarding the recreation staffing level in Chilliwack. So far there has been no substantive improvement. However CRAG continues to meet: we are positive albeit not optimistic with regard to a vanishing elephant.
Although the CRAG meetings essentially involve an ad-hoc group, minutes are taken and circulated and posted on recreational-user-group websites. If you would like more information contact your local recreational group or ORC directly.
Jack Bryceland is a member of the Federation of Mountain Clubs and served for several years on the Executive Board of Directors of the Outdoor Recreation Council.
The article was edited by Rose Schroeder, Recreation Director for the Horse Council of BC, and who presently serves on the Executive Board of Directors of the Outdoor Recreation Council