Garibaldi Provincial Park gets a little help from its friends

Friends of Garibaldi Park Society aims to do more than improve hiking trails

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      A couple of years ago, Alex Jenkins went for a hike in beautiful Garibaldi Provincial Park. He ascended the relentless switchbacks to the colourful Black Tusk Meadows, taking pictures along the way.

      Years back, Jenkins, who’s a retired B.C. Parks area supervisor, actually spent six years living and working in the park, which protects 194,650 hectares of the Coast Mountains east of the Sea to Sky Highway, 70 kilometres north of Vancouver. So, after he returned home, the 68-year-old Sechelt resident compared his new photos with his old snapshots and was troubled by what he saw.

      “The trail had become heavily eroded,” Jenkins told the Georgia Straight by phone. “The ditching had collapsed. The culverting had got filled in and wasn’t useful anymore. The water bars were rotten, the bridge drainers were rotten, and it just went on and on.”

      Jenkins resolved to do something about the poor condition of the popular hiking trail in the park’s Black Tusk-Garibaldi Lake area. He approached the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia, which represents hikers and climbers, and his former colleagues at B.C. Parks, and received encouragement.

      In May, the Friends of Garibaldi Park Society was incorporated, with Jenkins as its founding president. Last month, the nonprofit group sent two work parties up to the fragile subalpine meadows. With help from B.C. Parks rangers, the volunteers—including Brian Wood, past president of the FMCBC—rebuilt bridges, laid down 15 metres of boardwalk, and repaired steps and ditches on a section of the trail.

      “With the government cutbacks that happened over 10 years ago, this erosion has been allowed to continue,” Jenkins said. “The crux of it was that the trail need to be pretty much rebuilt. The water had been running right down the trail. If it happened to be on the fall line, it would be right down the middle of the trail. In some places, it cut out the trail, dug out the trail by 30-40 centimetres. It made the trail virtually impossible to walk on in some areas.”

      With a five-person board of directors, FOGP is now looking to the future. Over the winter, the group will be fundraising and seeking more volunteers. Next summer, Jenkins hopes to send more work parties into the park to restore trails. He envisions trail work becoming an annual activity for the group. But he also sees FOGP working to raise public awareness about the park’s value, helping out with the interpretation of natural history, and advocating for environmental protection in the coming years—much as the Friends of Cypress Provincial Park Society does for its park closer to Vancouver.

      The rise of FOGP comes as B.C. Parks is considering amending nine sections of the 1990 Garibaldi Park Management Plan. Proposals include building a new summer trail with three backcountry huts on the Spearhead Traverse behind the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, and allowing mountain biking in the Spearhead area.

      Asked for his thoughts on these potential changes, Jenkins noted he is concerned about the “lack of staffing” in the park and the impact of expanded usage in its core. “The park needs to be protected,” he said. “I would certainly do whatever needs to be done to help protect the park.”

      Brandin Schultz, South Coast regional manager for B.C. Parks, told the Straight that the parks branch hopes to put a draft management plan amendment out in November for public input. Open houses are tentatively scheduled for Whistler on November 20 and Vancouver on November 26.

      In September, B.C. Parks bought and flew in materials and provided rangers to help FOGP volunteers repair and upgrade the trail in Black Tusk Meadows, according to Schultz. B.C. Parks welcomes efforts of “shared stewardship”, he noted, so the future could see FOGP getting involved with wildlife inventories, environmental monitoring, and public education.

      “It’s totally in tune with our volunteer strategy, which has been developed over the last year or so,” Schultz said by phone from Mount Seymour Provincial Park in North Vancouver. “We recognize that there’s lots of folks out there who want to be involved and contribute their time and effort to improving conditions in the B.C. Parks system, and we’re totally supportive of groups like the Friends coming forward. We’ll do everything we can to collaborate and work on constructive projects.”

      Earlier this year, B.C. Parks built two new picnic shelters, at Taylor Meadows and Elfin Lakes. Schultz said the access road for the Diamond Head area is being repaired and the Elfin Lakes campground is being moved out of black-bear habitat. As well, an anonymous donor made a “substantial” donation for a multi-year project that will see trail improvements and a new bridge at Ring Creek.

      “There’s been a concentrated effort this year in Garibaldi Park on numerous fronts,” Schultz said.

      According to Jenkins, FOGP will be there to “keep an eye on things” as changes come to Garibaldi Park, which was created in 1927. He said he loves the “immensity” of the park and its stunning glacio-volcanic landscapes.

      “You can only walk a few kilometres and you can be way off into the wilderness,” Jenkins said. “It’s a very vast park with extremes in interpretation elements—the vegetation, the geology. The geology caught my attention very early on and continues to today, because it is absolutely unique up there, especially at Garibaldi Lake. It’s just ringed with volcanic activity and the consequential vegetation is very unique.”

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