Access to parts of BC’s backcountry will likely be “restricted” this summer as assessments are still ongoing.
Picnic tables buried in the gravel. A bridge that no longer leads anywhere. Trails and access roads obliterated by water, rock and mud.
In social media posts, backcountry users began cataloging the damage wrought by a series of “atmospheric rivers” that ripped through British Columbia in mid-November, melting snow and turning even the smallest streams into torrents.
Although less devastating than damage to homes and highways, the impact on BC’s backcountry is stunning, according to outdoor groups, whose members fear access to popular recreation areas be restricted in the coming months.
“They cleaned up the logs and fixed the creek, but there’s still a lot of damage,” said Trevor Carne, a Chilliwack real estate agent who lives near Cultus Lake.
Back on his favorite trail after the storms, he saw evidence of several mudslides. In Maple Bay, where he swims three times a week, he found picnic tables buried in the gravel, dozens of logs washed up on the beach and a creek where there was once a path leading to the water.
“The whole landscape has changed,” he said.
While restoration is underway at Cultus Lake Provincial Park, work in other parks has not even begun. Further east, Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park remains closed due to “risk and damage from flooding and erosion events.” Videos posted on social media show the historic tunnels of Othello filled with gravel, rocks and fallen trees.
the Vancouver Sun contacted BC Parks through the Department of the Environment to ask how many parks had been affected by the storms and how much it might cost to restore them, but did not receive a response by the deadline.
Rec Sites and Trails BC, which falls under the Department of Forestry, is still assessing damage to campgrounds and trails on Crown land, a task that has yet to be completed due to snow levels. A preliminary estimate suggests the work could cost $500,000.
“RSTBC is developing a plan to open sites and trails this summer, [but] not all facilities will be open,” a statement read. “Access may be restricted this coming season due to significant challenges in repairing the road network.”
Many Forest Service Roads, essential for accessing campgrounds, trailheads and huge swathes of Crown Forest, were damaged by the storms, rendering several popular hikes in the Chilliwack River Valley inaccessible .
“The trails aren’t too bad,” said Chilliwack Outdoor Club member Cal Francis. “It’s access that’s the biggest problem.”
The club maintains the Mount Slesse Memorial Trail, which leads to a plaque honoring 62 people who died when a plane crashed into the mountain in 1956. Parts of the logging road leading to the trailhead have been completely washed away, adding about 14 kilometers roundabout – hiking. The club lacks the authority and funding to restore the road, he said.
At Sumallo Grove in EC Manning Provincial Park, the storm caused a river to change course, leaving a “bridge to nowhere” where water once flowed. Also in Manning, the Windy Joe trailhead near Monument 83, which connects the Pacific Crest International Trail from Canada to Mexico, is badly eroded.
“It could take years to fix everything,” said Jay MacArthur, director of the BC Federation of Mountain Clubs Trails Committee. “The main problem is that there is simply no money to maintain access to many of these trails in provincial parks and forests.
Snowmobile clubs are working along the Coquihalla Highway, where several roads have been damaged by storms, said Donegal Wilson, executive director of the BC Snowmobile Federation. At least three BC clubs, including Coquihalla, Tulameen and Merritt, reported significant damage. The Fernie club used a $100,000 grant to help restore access to areas that draw significant numbers of tourists and money to the area.
Some recreation areas, including parts of the Fraser Canyon, have experienced both flooding and fires this year. Bernie Fandrich, retired owner of Kumsheen Rafting Resort, had to abandon his family business when the fire destroyed Lytton. While the main station buildings were spared, 10 canvas shacks were incinerated. He estimated that revenues for the past two years had fallen by 80%.
“After that came the flood,” Fandrich said. “The Nicoamen River, where we launch our rafts, has gone crazy. It drastically changed course and carried away a huge area of land and dumped it into the Thompson River.
The Department of Transportation, using its powers during a provincial state of emergency, began rebuilding the river bank to repair the highway, thereby destroying Kumsheen’s campground and raft launch. The company asked its lawyer to help restore access to the river for recreation.
“We hope they take into account the importance of river access there for rafters and kayakers,” Fandrich said.
The Thompson River has also changed, with new gravel bars and obstacles, and the forest on its banks is now charred and blackened. But the retired rafting guide was less concerned with Mother Nature. He said the river, like every year, will change again in the spring when the snow melts.