If you go into the woods this summer, you may be in for a big fine.
There is a complete closure of Vedder Mountain from now until Aug. 20 (see update below), to allow for road and trail maintenance. The closure, which was put in place by the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources, has thrown the local recreational industry off kilter and came as quite a surprise to the mountain’s many user groups.
The timing of the closure couldn’t have been worse, says Sam Waddington.
It has effectively shut local and visiting bikers and hikers out of the recreation area at a key point in the recreation season, he says, and the work was taken on with no consultation. Waddington is looking at the issue as a city councillor, a local recreation-based business owner, and an avid user of the mountain.
“The roadwork has to be done,” Waddington admits. “We welcome that from a recreation perspective. Everyone would love to see those roads upgraded.”
The closure started off as a Monday to Friday closure, limited to roadways and trails, so that work crews hired by the province could upgrade Vedder Mountain Forest Service Road. But somebody in the ministry may have underestimated the number of people who access the mountain daily, Waddington says.
“In the first two days there were literally hundreds of interactions,” between workers and recreationists, he says. “They said this is absolutely unsafe and there’s no way to ensure somebody doesn’t get hurt.”
With brush cutting and tree falling taking place, and the high numbers of visitors to the mountain, they decided to close the mountain entirely from now until Aug. 20. However, the mountain is open from 4 p.m. on Fridays until Monday mornings at 7 a.m.
“You can be fined if you set foot on the mountain,” Waddington says. “When you do an upgrade, you need to be mindful of who is accessing the ground you are improving.”
The Fraser Valley Mountain Biking Association was in the middle of planning their long term trail plan, with an expectation of having a thorough document completed and ready for submission for government funding in September. The Vedder Mountain plays a big part in that trail plan, and as such that document — and funding — will now be put on hold due to the closure.
“They were going to use this entire summer to flag new trails and scout terrain,” Waddington says. “That document’s going to be open to public, but really will guide the FVMBA, and every single person who uses trails will be a beneficiary. It’s not just a one-off and it fits into the greater picture.”
He says the Province didn’t speak with the City of Chilliwack either, who have budgeted money this year to improve trailheads that lead to Vedder Mountain. They didn’t consult with BC Parks, or with the FVRD area director, he adds.
Each of these governmental bodies would have to consult with Ministry for any plans to upgrade or close an area.
“My job as someone somewhat connected in a leadership capacity, is to consult. The province mandates it, we have a duty to consult as mandated, and they didn’t meet the exact same standards that we would have to meet if we were consulting with them. And that duty to consult is there for a very good reason.”
While he doesn’t hold any ill will toward the government, he does wish they had issued a stop-work order to allow for a late consultation process to take place.
In the meantime, those used to accessing the mountain are finding other places to hike and bike. And they’re trying to spread the word about the closure, as not every trail onto the mountain is marked with a notice — something that could have been easily addressed if the Ministry had connected with those who built the trails.
“If they had consulted with the recreation groups, they could have identified the most important trailheads, so they could inform people about the status of trails.”
Waddington estimates hundreds of people access the mountain on a daily basis.
The current closure states:
“Effective Friday August 5th the Vedder Mountain Forest Service Road (FSR) will be open weekends between 4:00 P.M. Fridays and 7:00 A.M. Mondays. The opening is inclusive of the surrounding area and recreational activities. The FSR remains closed to all traffic (vehicular, recreational and walking) between 7:00 am Mondays and 4:00 p.m. Friday until on or about August 20, 2016.”
Road maintenance activities include roadside brushing ditching, grading and the felling of trees directly adjacent to the road. Due to potential hazards of these activities that impact user safety, road maintenance or the stability of the road cut and fill slopes, forest users are urged to stay clear of the Vedder Mountain FSR and area until maintenance activities are complete. Thank you for your patience during this time. Road users can look forward to much improved access on the Vedder Mountain FSR later this year.”
MLA John Martin is the secretary for the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources, and did not respond to The Progress prior to deadline.
The following notice was issued on July 19, and a full list of closures in B.C. is available on the Ministry website.