Plans brew in Golden Ears Provincial Park as trails deteriorate

While the Ridge Meadows Outdoor Club says funding cuts have reduced trail maintenance, B.C. Parks has drafted a new strategy for the park’s future

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      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.

      Evans Peak lies in Golden Ears Provincial Park.
      Stephen Hui

      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.”




      Mar 7, 2013 at 5:47am

      And somewhere, deep in the bowels of the Premier's Office, staff are probably working on a plan to award 99-year leases on all provincial parks to private companies.

      Not piddly maintenance contracts or concession permits (already privatized). But leases that essentially transfer "ownership" into corporate hands.

      Golden Ears front country areas would be dandy for shopping malls, hotels and condo developments ...


      Mar 7, 2013 at 12:30pm

      Let the parks return to a natural state. We need to reduce the number of people visiting wild areas.No amenities, no trails, no bridges, few people = win for the environment.


      Mar 7, 2013 at 2:18pm

      @ naturalmystic: There is no "win" for the environment if average people are not exposed to it. Pictures and videos are no substitute for reality.

      We need both approaches: Welcoming "front country" areas for casual or new users, and natural back country for those with the experience and skill to enjoy it. If we do not appeal to both groups, our parks will die, period.

      Given its "urban" location, Golden Ears may be the ultimate test case on the future of our parks. I hope we all pay attention to this plan.

      Awesome Man

      Mar 8, 2013 at 9:45am

      DavidH is right, without exposure to these wounderous parks, people won't understand what makes Canada beautiful and natural. When my extended family visited Vancouver, they thought "wow, what a city, but where's the beauty?", until we took them to Golden Ears park.

      And that's when someone started to chop onions in the middle of the Forrest, 'cause they were teary eyed all over the place.


      Mar 8, 2013 at 7:47pm

      There is always money for where ever the govt.decides to allocate it! This govt. sees profit in everything. Some areas NEED to be left in the public domain. Relatives from Europe and there were 67 of them in our direct family loved Golden Ears park in the 70's. Lots of interpetive programs with university students, (who had alot more knowledge then the employees working there now), and rangers clearing the trails. It's a SHAME with where the govt. puts it's priorities now! This is called the best place on Earth by the govt. now. Prove It!

      Serge Touchette

      Mar 11, 2013 at 3:14pm

      Dear Stephen,

      Thank You for writing about Golden Ears Prov Park.

      Further to our telephone interview, I resent very much that you have put words in my mouth that I did not say. I never said or alluded to: "(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." The Ridge Meadows Outdoor Club's interest is strictly in Golden Ears Prov Park and not political in nature. It is one thing to say or imply: "He told the Georgia Straight that over the past decade or so, they’ve watched the condition of these trails deteriorate.", which I did say; and another to make a leap by associating this comment to the BC Liberal party. To be sure, any political activism in our club is strictly forbidden.

      I very much resent this faux pas, particularly when it can be construed to create political sensationalism.

      We all want the best for Golden Ears; a unique and great park.

      Serge Touchette

      Stephen Hui

      Mar 11, 2013 at 3:29pm

      Hi Serge:

      As you did refer to cutbacks over the past several years, I included the reference to the government in power for context. It was not my intention to indicate any partisan activity by yourself or your club, and I don’t believe the article does this. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed and for expressing your concerns.

      Greg Black

      Dec 1, 2013 at 3:16am

      Being an avid user of the park and trail systems, I really appreciate the efforts of the club and its trail maintenance. Some trails are in poor shape from weather erosion, but most could be fixed with reasonable funding. The bridge across Gold Creek, I am presuming at Lower Falls or end of East Canyon trail. The problem I see is that the government will build the bridge and will cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, when in the past there was a three cable bridge in this location before it was washed out and never replaced. There was nothing wrong with this type of crossing. The terrain beyond this point is basically for experienced hikers or hikers with the ability to cross such a bridge as well as bring a great memory to the hike, as it did for me at age 10. The year after it was washed out there was only one way to get up the trail, cross in the river, so we did ( with a German Shepard as well), and that also is a great memory. I am thinking the cost of a large structure could be spread out to fix more areas such as the stream crossing just before Alder Flats, water channeling along the Menzies trial, possibly a small bridge over the 1st stream on Menzies after the Parks Headquarters, or to keep open in winter when it snows, like Seymour, Manning,etc. There are great trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, etc, ice skating on Mike Lake is also a thing of the past as well.
      I think a lot of smaller fixes could be made for one overpriced unnecessary fix, the park is huge and needs so much work in all areas, it's better to patch them all, instead of glorifying one.
      I do not think a yurt or the like should function for profit in the park, if you want to sleep in a Yurt bring one up, camp as everyone else, get a true experience not a pampered one, it's pampered enough in the drive in camping already provided. I can't really see this working to be such a great benefit and could possibly be a profit loss situation as well.
      We need just to preserve what we have, it is great pretty much the way it is, people need to see the real outdoors, don't make it too catering, most hikers or outdoors people like the odd little stream to cross, it builds character and memories, they like well marked trails, they don't want to stumble on a group of Yurts in the middle of there hike, they don't need a huge bridge to cross in the middle of their trail.