A mudslide that twisted the pilings and eroded the banks of the Bulldog Creek Bridge, may have knocked out the only connection to several heritage traplines and guided hunting ground south of Valemount.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says over the summer, Crown Corporation BC Timber Sales will conduct a full assessment of the damage and design options for repair or replacement. The bridge falls under the jurisdiction of the crown corporation. There is no official estimate yet on the damage or the cost to repair it.
The Ministry says BC Timber Sales will construct a barricade to formally close access within two weeks. In the interim, a sign and a sawhorse barricade have been put in place as a warning to users.
About 60 kilometres of road is cut off as a result, the Ministry says. Frank Meersman says his winter trapline will be inaccessible without the bridge. The trapline doesn’t actually start until 30km; the bridge is located at roughly the 24 km mark.
“There’s no way to get through that canyon with anything,” he says.
Meersman has leased his trapline from Ken McKirdy who inherited it from Fulton McKirdy. McKirdy is known as the first white settler in Valemount (then Swift Creek).
The trapline generates income for Meersman during the winter. If access becomes too difficult or costly to continue, he and the McKirdy family may lose the rights.
As per provincial guidelines, a certain amount of income must be produced on the trapline each year for it to remain active.
According to the Wildlife Act and the Wildlife Act Commercial Activities Regulation, if a trapper does not take from his trapline within a year, the trapper may be subject to a fine under section 3.15 of the Wildlife Act Commercial Activities Regulation. Failing to use a trapline is defined as taking fewer than 50 pelts or pelts worth less than $200 within a year.
However the government may authorize the holder of a registered trapline to temporarily discontinue the use or part of the use of the trapline for a period not exceeding two years.
Similarly, if a hunting guide does no guiding within a year in a guide certificate territory, the regional manager may review the guiding operation.
Colin Niemeyer is a hunting guide who uses the area south of Bulldog for the bulk of his business Niemeyer Outfitting. Buster Duncan used to have the license for the outfitting, which goes back at least half a century.
“It definitely would affect my business,” he said, if the bridge were closed.
He has not been out to see the bridge yet, but he says he will have to find some other way to access the area. Some 300-400 square miles of guiding area is down there. He says it’s very difficult to use the area by boat.
Typically they use either truck or ATV to access the area. He probably takes 10 people to that area each year, with each trip lasting up to a week.
“That’s keeping us pretty busy throughout the year. If they’re going to pull the bridge, I have to find another way of getting down there. I cannot afford to not be down there.”
Meersman says since the road was originally built for logging, he can’t understand why the government is not maintaining the road. There is still good timber in that area that will likely be harvested one day, he says.
“When they finally do start logging there, it’s going to cost millions more if they don’t maintain it.”
Several more trappers use the adjacent area, Meersman says, as well as hunters and ATVers. He says he was hoping existing users could continue to use it at their own risk.
A few years ago, the bridge at 40km was also taken out. They can’t go past with a truck and have to use quads now.
“That’s trapping isn’t it? The whole thing is at your own risk. You’re out there alone.”
Curtis Pawliuk says from a tourism perspective with the bridge in place you can make a full day of activities along that road. Without it, it will limit the amount of time people spend in the area.
“It would be a big loss,” says Pawliuk who is general manager of the Valemount and Area Recreation Development Association. “That’s the sunny side of the lake.”
“You’re losing fishing, hunting, driving, sightseeing, hiking.”
Don Bennett of the Valemount Marina Association says they don’t have numbers of people going past the marina over the bridge, but the number of marina users is steady.
Last year, there were 421 paying campers over 3.5 months starting June 1st. They don’t charge for camping in May or after Sept. 15th.
Bennett says the bridge connected to a good ATV area because of all the hard-packed roads.
“It keeps them out of the alpine,” Bennett says. “It was a benefit to our community in that way because it keeps them on old roads.”
“With lumber markets going up I was hoping they would fix it.”
The Ministry notes that all government established recreation sites are located before the bridge.
By: Laura Keil