Every year, Serge Touchette makes a point of hiking to the top of Golden Ears, north of Maple Ridge. He and the other 175 members of the Ridge Meadows Outdoor Club visit the Class A park named after Mount Blanshard’s twin summits so often they call it their “back yard”.
Touchette is the president of the RMOC, whose members voluntarily maintain trails in Golden Ears Provincial Park. He told the Georgia Straight that over the past decade or so, they’ve watched the condition of these trails deteriorate.
“Now there are no longer bridges, or very few,” Touchette said by phone from Pitt Meadows, where he resides. “They’re all falling apart; they’re all slanted; and they’re very dangerous. When they get too dangerous, and when they [B.C. Parks] get to it, they will take the bridge down.”
According to Touchette, the lack of trail upkeep has been felt in parks across the province due to funding cuts brought in since the B.C. Liberals came to power in 2001. That’s why, in its written response to the draft management plan for Golden Ears—which was established in 1967 and is now B.C.’s fourth most visited provincial park—the RMOC is calling for the government to increase the B.C. Parks budget.
“It’s no secret that funding has come down with B.C. Parks,” Touchette said. “In fact, we think that B.C. Parks has now become pretty well an empty shell.”
Released in December, the draft plan for Golden Ears proposes a number of strategies to deal with the issue of recreational facilities in the park “no longer meeting demand”. One of the goals is to expand trail networks to include loops and viewpoints. The document proposes the building of a trail and a footbridge across Gold Creek to link the East Canyon Trail with the backcountry campsites at Alder Flats and the Golden Ears Trail.
The draft plan—which aims to replace the 62,539-hectare park’s current management plan, last updated in 1976—also entertains the possibility of developing year-round yurts, huts, or cabins in the park. It recommends B.C. Parks work with Golden Ears’ private facilities operator to improve wintertime access.
According to Jennie Aikman, South Coast regional planner for B.C. Parks, open houses on the draft plan attracted over 20 attendees in Vancouver and more than 155 in Maple Ridge in January. B.C. Parks also received 160 online submissions from the public and 15 written responses from stakeholder groups prior to the February 15 deadline. The Sto:lo Nation, Matsqui First Nation, and Tsawwassen First Nation have already provided feedback, and B.C. Parks is slated to hold an open house for the Katzie First Nation on March 13.
Aikman, who is writing the management plan, told the Straight that B.C. Parks staff will assess input from the public—such as some support for “small, modest yurts” in the park’s front-country area—and determine how it might be incorporated. They’re aiming to get final approval from B.C. Parks executive director Brian Bawtinheimer and South Coast regional director Brandin Schultz by late spring.
“The plan is meant to look into the future and identify strategies that we can implement over the next 20 years or so,” Aikman said by phone from her office in Cultus Lake Provincial Park. “But I think that we need to be realistic, given the resources that we have, and identify those high-priority strategies that we want to move forward with.”
Much like the RMOC, the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. says in its written submission to B.C. Parks that it is “generally supportive” of the draft plan. But Scott Webster, president of the FMCBC—which represents 27 clubs with a combined 3,500 members—told the Straight that B.C. Parks needs to figure out how to maintain existing trails before adding any new ones to the park. He also wants to see any huts built in Golden Ears to be operated by B.C. Parks and not owned by a private company.
“A private operator probably doesn’t have the same mission as B.C. Parks, right?” Webster said by phone from Burnaby. “B.C. Parks is trying to conserve protected areas and provide recreational opportunities. The private operator presumably is out to make a profit. That’s okay—that’s how private enterprise works—except we feel that’s more appropriate outside of the park.”
Touchette argues that volunteer groups like the RMOC should be allowed to play a bigger role in monitoring and upgrading trails, especially due to what he says is a lack of rangers in the park. He hopes B.C. Parks will make building a new footbridge across Gold Creek a priority, because the creation of a loop trail and a shorter approach for the ascent of Golden Ears is desirable for many hikers.
With a provincial election coming in May, Touchette noted that it’s an opportune time to “sensitize” politicians to the park’s issues.
“There’s always money,” Touchette said. “It just depends who pushes it on what and where the priorities are.”