This land is your land: Community-driven plan a first in BC
It’s common wisdom to never discuss politics or religion. But if you live in northern BC, you might want to add “trail use” to that list.
If anything instills passion in northerners, it’s their recreation. In the Bulkley Valley and in mountain towns across the North, recreation can equal religion, and when you bring up the politics of such, you could be treading on muddy ground—whether it be by horse, mountain bike, quad, or foot.
That’s why a diverse group of recreationalists is working together in Smithers to hammer out the province’s first community-driven Summer Recreational Access Management Plan (RAMP).
“It’s really a big part of your life—the bush, the forest, the environment,” says Lloyd Kilback with the Bulkley Valley Quad Riders. “It’s different than living in a big city like Vancouver. It’s the reason we live here.”
Kilback represents his club—consisting of roughly 35 members—and all summer motorized off-road vehicle users at the table for the Recreational Access Management Plan. A volunteer committee convened by the local Community Resources Board (CRB), the RAMP team has been working toward a comprehensive plan for local recreation since October.
The RAMP table brings together two representatives each from the Bulkley Valley Quad Riders, Backcountry Horsemen, Smithers Mountain Bike Association and Bulkley Valley Backpackers. Four community representatives are also at the table. All agree that bringing together the outdoor enthusiasts who actually use the trails is the best way to define their use. “Absolutely. We’re the ones that are using the recreational resources,” Kilback says. “We should be the ones deciding that stuff. It sounds like we’re going to get rid of some of the haggling around here.”
Users unite! Along with ending entrenched ill feelings among some user groups—often motorized versus non-motorized—it’s hoped that better defining backcountry use will make it easier to promote local recreation and allow for long-term planning and trail maintenance.
Jay Gilden, who represents the 50-plus-member Bulkley Valley Backpackers, says he hopes the process will build ongoing relationships among the groups.
“I think if we can reach a consensus and start building bridges with everyone, the recreation opportunities around here can be enhanced. It can help unite the community. There are a lot of strong divisions that have been going on for years, and I think it can help establish this area as a place people come for recreation.” Promoting recreational opportunities could help diversify the economic base, he adds.
He also points out that when there is community agreement on recreational access, it becomes easier to get funding to develop backcountry use. “It’s a lot more likely someone’s going to say ‘Yes’ and look for funds if they think there’s not going to be a lot of community friction about it.”
The CRB convened the RAMP process and secured its funding. It will oversee implementation of the completed RAMP, much like it does the Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP), which is a land-use plan completed in 1997 for approximately 760,000 hectares—almost all—of the Bulkley Timber Supply Area. A RAMP was started in the late 1990s, but never completed. The current process is a continuation of that plan.
“We’ve had a lot of people over the years ask the Community Resources Board to get it done,” says Ben Heemskerk, CRB vice-chair and chair of its recreation subcommittee. “The 1997 agreement is going to be used as the template to move ahead with, but if there are compelling reasons that something is no longer relevant, we’ll look at whether something should be modified.”
Heemskerk says the group hopes to develop a plan that can be revisited over the years to ensure it stays relevant as recreation interests in the valley evolve. As he points out, 10 years ago mountain biking wasn’t as central to the local recreation community as it is today. As well, local horseback riders—who had no formal representation at the time—weren’t included in the original RAMP.
“If we don’t maintain our right to ride and we don’t get our voice out, we might not be able to down the road,” says Barbara Veale, who represents about 50 members of the Backcountry Horsemen Society of BC’s Northwest Chapter at the RAMP table. She says she believes there’s plenty of wilderness to go around.
“People sometimes have very passionate views. We seem to have a reasonably good table as far as being open to other viewpoints,” she says. “I choose to go into the backcountry on horseback or on foot or on skis, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to enjoy it.”
Getting stepped on Tom Chamberlin has been a professional facilitator for 20 years and is working with the RAMP group to guide the decision-making process. “All conflicts have, at their root, that somebody feels their values are getting stepped on,” he says. “People need to understand each other’s values and needs if they want to resolve a problem.”
The values shared within the group, he says, are safety, certainty of use and environmental responsibility. With five table members representing non-motorized and seven representing motorized, “Nobody has too polarized a view,” he says.
“One of the greatest things about Smithers is that people see each other as people. Even if you have a conflict with someone, you try and resolve it because the other person might be the coach of your kids’ soccer team. That’s why I’ve enjoyed raising my kids in the valley,” Chamberlin says.
The table group was formed through an application process, with the CRB recreation sub-committee choosing members. Representatives consult with their club membership and return to the table with feedback. Once completed, the table members will bring suggestions to the CRB, who will then present the plan to government as recommendations.
The plan excludes anything within the Smithers town boundary or under jurisdiction of BC Parks, although the group is in communication with the provincial government. The process, according to Recreational Sites and Trails BC recreation officer Kevin Eskelin, is being treated as a pilot project for the Provincial Trail Strategy. “The province has a role to play in the review and implementation of the plan, but the process itself is driven by the community.”
Although other, government-driven plans have been undertaken for the Kootenay and Vanderhoof areas, this is the province’s first community-led RAMP. The Vanderhoof Access Management Plan for Forest Recreation, which was completed in 2008, encompasses the Vanderhoof Forest District area and covers 1.38 million hectares of Crown land.
The Bulkley Valley RAMP process is funded by Recreational Sites and Trails BC, Wetzin’Kwa Community Forest and the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia. A winter access management plan to follow the summer RAMP will be dependent on funding.
The committee hopes to have a draft management plan available for public review early in the new year. At that time, a public open house will be held to gather feedback. Community members wishing to provide input prior to the open house can contact table members via email, through the Community Resources Board website at www.bvcrb.ca/ramp/table_members.
“Public input is not only important, it’s necessary,” Chamberlin says. “Unless the community’s views are seen to be represented in the plan, there’s no buy-in.”