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Off-road groups call for Gill Bar to be re-opened in Chilliwack

‘Simply shutting down the area doesn’t provide an opportunity to educate and grow as a community’
Gill Road bar on the Fraser River near Chilliwack as seen in 2019 before access was closed to all vehicle traffic to protect fish habitat. (Matt Ion photo)

Provincial off-roading groups are calling for the re-opening of Gill Bar in Chilliwack.

The Quad Riders Association of BC, and the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC issued a statement Tuesday, (Dec. 5) expressing their frustration over the decision last year by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to close off vehicle access to the Gill Road gravel bar to protect fish habitat by installing a concrete block.

The move to finally close Gill Bar came after they installed a gate initially in 2019, and then blocked vehicle access completely in 2022. Those moves by DFO to protect valuable salmon and sturgeon habitat were on the heels of several years of attempts by local stewards to stop the degradation due to constant garbage-dumping, squatting, pallet fires, and other environmental abuse like splashing through sensitive back channels.

Federal DFO officials had been granted the authority to close Gill Bar in July 2022 by the province, and it was done conjunction with the City of Chilliwack, Ministry of Forests, and Ministry of Lands, Water and Resource Stewardship officials.

But not all stakeholders were happy.

“Simply shutting down the area doesn’t provide the opportunity for us to educate and grow as a community together,” the letter from the off-road groups said.

The initial decision to shut down Gill Bar was made with input from local First Nations, the RCMP, stewardship groups, off-road recreational groups, and other stakeholders.

But the off-road reps had been requesting an update from DFO, as well as a seat at the table for further discussions as stakeholders, over the future of Gill Bar.

They ultimately want to know what the future holds for the once-popular recreational area, and would like to regain access.

“We are disappointed to see that we have continued to be left out of the conversations regarding the future management of this area, as it was identified during the initial temporary closure that future consultation over the next two years with all stakeholders would take place,” the groups wrote in the joint letter.

That didn’t happen.

“While the update provided shows some movement forward with engagement with local First Nations it doesn’t clearly indicate how they will address the temporary closure or if it will become permanent.”

The four-wheel drive group worked with Watershed Watch Salmon Society in the fall of 2021 and into 2022 on an education campaign to raise awareness about the sensitive salmon spawning areas.

Signs installed in the area in 2021 were meant to stave off garbage dumping and habitat destruction, but instead they were torn down.

RELATED: Signs to protect habitat ripped down

But the wide open gravel bar has been enjoyed by thousands over the years.

“Gill Bar is a tremendous community resource that was loved and cherished by many thousands of people and has long been a vital hub for various community and recreational activities, serving as a haven for rock hounders, individuals exercising their dogs, fishermen seeking tranquility, and families enjoying fireside moments.”

It all created a unique spot, and unique community of users.

“The loss of this place is a tremendous loss to the community as well as a great loss for motorized recreationists,” the letter from the two groups said.

RELATED: Shut down of Gill Bar was in September 2022

RELATED: Gating off Gill Bar was one of the options

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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