By Andrea Arnold
The recent announcement from the Ministry of Forests stating they plan to deactivate the East Twin Forest Service Road has already caused ripple effects for local groups.
“The decision has motivated the Recreation Officer, Mackenzie Kentner to cancel our Section 57 authorization to work on a trail connecting the Chalco to the East Twin,” said Roy Howard, President of the Fraser Headwater Alliance.
The trail is approximatly 45km long. The Chalco trailhead is accessible off the Holmes/Beaver FSR. The East Twin trailhead starts at 7.9km on the FSR in danger of being deactivated.
Section 57 authorization under the The Forest and Range Practices Act is required for construction, rehabilitation or maintenance of a trail or recreation facility on Crown land.
“We received the authorization five years ago, and there was no mention of an expiry date,” said Howard. “Kentner has now placed a variance on the agreement, adding an expiry date of June 1, 2023.”
This change has been unexpected not only because the expiry date did not previously exist, but also the trail they are working on has two trailheads. So although vehicular access to the East Twin trailhead is in jeopardy, the Chalco end will remain open for access.
FHWA has plans to re-brush the Chalco road this year, but Howard isn’t sure if the expiry date will affect these plans as well. The Chalco portion of the road also serves as access to the Great Divide Trail that runs between Waterton and the Kakwa. This trail has been gaining popularity in recent years.
The Fraser Headwater Alliance has been working on this trail hoping it will be included in the National Hiking Trail Link, providing non-motorized trail access across the country. At the East Twin end of the 45 km trail in question, it connects to an old road bed that allows adventurers to continue to Crescent Spur. This segment of trail has unofficially been named the “Scotty Murray trail” after a long time resident of Crescent Spur/Loos.
With the planned closure of the East Twin FSR comes the removal of bridges. Howard says there is a bridge at 3.5km that is the worst of it. The bridge itself is pretty solid but the foundation is old rotten logs. He says it was closed a few years ago but then reopened for vehicles under five tonnes.
The trailhead is located at 7.9km and there is a small bridge right next to it that the FHWA installed allowing small motorized vehicles, pedestrian and horse access to the trail. However, the big concern is the bridge at 7.8km that runs over the East Twin River. If that bridge is removed, there will be no accessing the trailhead.
Howard and the rest of the FHWA would like to see someone step up and take over the road to keep it open. He knows that the road does need some work, and that there are areas that are slumping, creating a concern for the fish habitats nearby. However, he is unclear why there is a need to remove the bridges, as he believes most of them are in good shape.
The deactivation of this road has been an ongoing threat for several years. Howard said they have met with not only the current General Manager of the McBride Community Forest Corporation (MCFC), but the past two as well. Mayor Gene Runtz has been an ally and is working with the Alliance to hopefully find a solution.
“I am not in favour of more logging in the area,” said Howard, “but I would like to see the road kept open.”
A second option would be for the FHWA to take on the responsibility of the road. Howard says that they could build crossings for the small tributaries and install a larger crossing to replace the bridge at 7.8km. However, they would need to find a lot of money to accomplish these tasks.
“We favour the first,” he said. “But regardless, in order to keep working on the trail we need to apply for new Section 57 authorization.”
“It was a surprise that the Recreation Officer was able to terminate the authorization,” said Howard. “The change will likely affect all current agreements for all non-park trails. The Backcountry Horsemen trails, bike trails, Eagle Valley and the Ozalenka would all be required to return to Front Counter BC for continuing trails authorization. This adds a lot more work for the volunteer organizations, the government overseer and Front Counter BC.”
Patrick Penner, General Manager of MCFC says one of the options available is the community forest takes over the East Twin FSR. Although his personal feelings are that yes, that would be a great solution, from an economic viewpoint it is not a feasible option.
“MCFC had a field visit with the Ministry last summer about what would be involved if MCFC were to take over the road,” said Penner. “From a conservative standpoint, we were quoted that the first three kilometers of road would cost $500,000 to meet standards, but would more
realistically be between $750,000 and a million to fix up to the standards that would need to be met.”
Penner said that the Ministry would be able to help with some of the financial burden, but with only about $40,000.
He also explained that if the MCFC were to take over the road, they would also take on all of the liability, and the need to rehabilitate the road to a certain standard.
“The certain standard depends on the district Engineer approving the plans,” said Penner. “Being classified as a forest service road, we would need to come up with a plan of the work being done on it. This plan would need to be approved by district engineers before moving forward with any work.”
Penner also said that the biggest liability involved is environmental.
It is currently classified as a Forest Service Road. Economically, Penner said that there are no development plans up the East-Twin.
“The majority of the drainage has been classified as a no harvest zone due to winter range,” he said.
Penner says that the MCFC is aware that the East Twin FSR is the way to access the Chalco
East-Twin trail and is exploring other options that are more cost effective.