On a clear day, the West side of Vedder Mountain overlooks the farmland and rolling hills of the Fraser Valley below, and houses a robust network of trails that outdoor enthusiasts have been using for generations. But anyone escaping to the area will be assaulted by ugly piles of construction materials, discarded animal skins and bones, bags of personal garbage, toxic grow-up waste, and a shooting range with thousands of shells, some live.
Stepping around the mess, local groups, such as the Vedder Mountain Trails Association (VMTA) and the Yarrow chapter of Back Country Horsemen of B.C., have been coming to the area to enjoy the trails for years. And so have individual groups of motorized ATV and dirtbike riders. As have people with guns seeking free target practice within an easy drive of the city.
Now, driving up the nameless forest road that stems off of Old Yale Road in Abbotsford, just on the edge of Chilliwack, every small clearing yields a different pile of illegal garbage. There is the mattress and construction materials section, the household waste section, and the animal bones section. On occasion, there can also be an old appliances area, and one for stolen cars.
Four kilometres from the main road is the big attraction: the shooting range. Taking up the length of what was once a trail access route at the base of a majestic mountain peak, sheets of old metal and beer bottles form targets at the end of the hundreds-metre-long alley. At its entry is a pile of thousands of shells from large and small caliber guns, shotguns, and possibly assault rifles.
Farmers and other residents along Old Yale and Majuba Hill Roads have complained about the noise and security. And the shooting presents a real danger to recreational trail users.
The illegal dumping along the forest road traverses land owned by several individuals, but most of it is public land.
Those who regularly access the area have been systematically pursuing ways to end the dumping. One option is to develop part of the land, which would put many vigilant eyes on the mountain. Anthony Penner purchased 113 acres in 2005, including the main forestry road, with the plan of creating 31 housing development lots cut with a greenbelt. His re-zoning application was twice-rejected by the City of Abbotsford, when dozens of farmers came out to protest the drainage, increased traffic, and urban sprawl issues they believed would result. Speaking with the Chilliwack Progress by phone, Penner sounded thoroughly exhausted by the whole process, and hasn’t submitted another re-zoning application. Meanwhile, his land gets dirtier with every passing weekend.
“I used to go up there and try and let people know, ‘look, you’re on private property, you need to leave.’ And I’d get such a backlash from people that felt they had some right to be there,” he says.
Penner has put up three gates over five years. They were all broken down within weeks. He used to go up and haul out the rubbish, but hasn’t been able to keep up.
Another potential solution is to turn some of the public land on the mountain side into a designated provincial interpretive forest site. This would put the area on the provincial map, increase visibility, and force maintenance standards. VMTA president Dr. Mark A. Steinebach has been working with a conservation officer in Chilliwack on the proposal for over a year.
“This is an area that, if people knew it existed, they would embrace it whole-heartedly as something they would want for recreation. It’s so close to the city. But people would leave if they saw the garbage on the road,” says Steinebach.
The historic trails, such as the Old Yale wagon road connecting shipments from New Westminster to Yale since the 1860s, present an easily accessible recreation destination. Logging companies also still use them today, with permission from the private owners of the forestry road.
Steinebach thinks that it is more expensive and arduous to drive a loaded pick-up truck up the forest road to illegally dump garbage, than it is to take the waste to the city dump. Although the dump charges a few dollars, the drive to and up the mountain may cost more.
The VMTA has been coordinating a mass-scale cleanup of the other side of the mountain, near Cultus Lake village, for over a decade. Every year they extract seven to 10 tonnes of garbage, with the help of hundreds of volunteer hours. This year they’re doing it again on April 21. But neither this group, nor the handful of private owners, has yet been able to rally enough volunteers to attack the West side. Even if they did, chances are such a housekeeping effort would not last long. Every year, Steinebach has found garbage on the East side on the day after the mass cleanup.