Taking back the backcountry

The regional district also retains responsibility for some backcountry roads, such as the road up to the Beaver River Stockyards, but they put up signs indicating the property is not maintained. Many locals are wondering why the Province can’t do the same in other instances? / EVAN MATTHEWS

by EVAN MATTHEWS

Locals are working with their politicians to keep access to the Dore River Valley as backcountry roads are threatened with closures.

Forestry companies originally installed many of the Robson Valley’s Forest Service Roads (FSRs) and permit roads, but once companies log and vacate the areas, many roads are decommissioned and the Ministry of Lands, Forests and Natural Resources takes control over the areas.

The Ministry is decommissioning many of the roads, as neither the logging companies nor the Province want the responsibility and/or liability that comes along with controlling them, according to locals.

Sledders, horse riders, cross-country skiers, hikers, farmers, trappers and hunters — tourists and locals, alike — all use the roads until they are decommissioned.

“There’s quite a lot of roads like this, and it’s not my thinking we need to have all of them open,” says Bill Arnold, having lived in the valley and accessed its backcountry since 1958.

“But there are a few that should be kept open, and it should be up to residents of the valley as to which ones,” he says.

The Dore River Valley is one of the more well-known and used backcountry areas, according to Glen Stanley, who has lived in the valley for 70 years, and is a member of the Ozalenka Alpine Hiking Club.

Now the Dore River Road might be closed for good, if the Province yanks out the bridge crossing the Dore River.

University students from who come as far as Ontario to use the backcountry near McBride.

Up the Dore River Valley, a hiking trail leads to an area with some extremely rare rock formations, according to locals. The rocks are rare in that the only other place scientists have found similar formations are along the ocean floor.

Geology students from Ontario come to study the formations in the summer. In the fall, students from the University of Northern British Columbia come to study the area’s receding glaciers.

“There is so much opportunity here,” says Arnold.

“Some said they have always done the majority of their hiking in Jasper, but after seeing it here, they’ve said they’ll never go (to Jasper) again,” he says.

As much of the valley transitions from resource-based economies to a tourism-based economy, the existing infrastructure — and the opportunity to develop new infrastructure — should be viewed as a positive, and as an attraction to the increasing percentage of the tourist population, according to Arnold.

“It’s infrastructure providing access to a recreational activity,” says Arnold.

“We can advertise these areas, but we dare not advertise something we don’t have access to,” he says.

All who access
Other examples have come forward, too.

Lester Blouin, a McBride resident who helped build many of the roads, says to remove them at this point just doesn’t make sense.

Ron Westlund, who lives on Westlund Road, has a family farm and tenure up the Dore River Valley.

Westlund brings his cattle to the valley to graze, but he says if he can’t access the area by road then he can’t access the area at all. He’d have to find an alternative solution, if such a thing exists, he says.

Arnold and Stanley have been working together to add signs up the Dore Valley, he says, as the signs act as a tourist’s guide to the waterfalls and glaciers.

“It’s more interesting up there if you know the names and you have reference,” says Stanley.

In listening to her constituents, Regional District Director for Electoral Area H and McBride resident Dannielle Alan has put forward a resolution to the North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA) on this very issue.

The North Central Local Government Association is a non-profit, non-partisan association comprised of all elected officials in North Central B.C., including Valemount and McBride.

The NCLGA is currently developing a list of resolutions on behalf of its members, so the organization can advocate for its members regarding specific issues, in this case, decommissioned roads.

“There is so much opportunity here. Some said they have always done the majority of their hiking in Jasper, but after seeing it here, they’ve said they’ll never go (to Jasper) again,” — Bill Arnold, long-time backcountry user and McBride resident

Director Alan says in talking with locals, there is a definite need for access to some of these areas, and people are willing to work with government to come up with viable solutions.

“Ideally, the Province would consult with communities to identify key access roads, preferably before they are decommissioned, and would work with communities, industry and stakeholder groups to put together a maintenance plan to keep these roads accessible to the degree mutually agreed upon,” says Alan.

“For some roads it may mean foot and ATV traffic only, for others by motor vehicle. It depends on the circumstance,” she says, adding it would be up to the Province to set the parameters of the conversation.

Liability, again, makes the situation more difficult, Alan noted.

Now, in what feels like a power struggle between locals and the province, Arnold says locals are working in clarifying the record.

“We’re not interested in controlling the roads or the process,” says Arnold.

“We’re just interested in keeping some of them open.”

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