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B.C.’s off-road sports groups revved up about impact of gondola on trail access

Gondola has ‘potential to limit up to 80 per cent of motorized trail access’ in area, reps say
Looking west from ridge above Bridal Falls over Chilliwack. (Sam Waddington file)

B.C.’s off-road motorized sports groups are revved up about the potential for the Cascade Skyline Gondola Project to impact their most-used trails.

Members of the Quad Riders Association of BC, BC Off-Road Motorcycle Association, BC Snowmobile Federation, and the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC fired off a Jan. 6 letter and map to local governments and the media.

They took issue with a statement in a previous Chilliwack Progress story made by project proponents that the project tenure “has little impact on trails/roads in the drainage.”

The gondola proposal, in partnership with Cheam First Nation, is pending approvals and the groups say they hope to be able to mitigate some of the impacts.

The project is to build a sightseeing gondola up to the ridge above the base at the current Bridal Falls Golf Course site, and from there they plan to offer walking and hiking options.

The groups stated that the project has “the potential to limit up to 80 per cent of motorized trail access” in the Cheam, Thurston Loop and Chipmunk areas.

RELATED: Gondola tenure will have ‘little impact’ on trails

“We have provided a draft map of the proposed project and current trails to show the current impacts,” the group’s letter stated.

The Chipmunk Forest Service Road is a “key access road” for motorized users and is listed to be blocked.

“This proposal also blocks the most used trail on the mountain, the Thurston Loop, and further blocks access to the ultimate goal of the loop which is the view point,” the letter continues.

However project proponent, Jayson Faulkner, of the Bridal Falls Gondola Corp. countered that the project will “in no way” limit 80 per cent of trails as the groups are alleging.

“We disagree with that assertion,” Faulkner said.

Their proposal is to have gates on some of the access roads, but he estimates that will only cover about 11 kilometres of roads currently used by motorized trail users.

“Our entire tenure application is for approximately 400 hectares out of the total Chipmunk Creek drainage of 4,200 hectares.

“It will only impact 10 per cent of the total land base, and likely even less than that in actual use. So the claim that gates will close off the majority of their trails is not true,” Faulkner said.

The precise location of the proposed gates are on public file, he said.

“It is physically impossible for our project to close motorized access to such a large area,” Faulkner stated.

It has always been a question of safety to maintain a distance between the user groups.

“The tenured area would be non-motorized for the safety of our guests who would be walking and hiking on our trails and roads, and for security reasons, being an ecological and cultural tourism experience, and the tenure represents about 11 kilometres of road closure versus the estimated 70 to 80 kilometres of roads and trails for motorized vehicles in the area.”

Faulkner underlined that ultimately, any land-use planning decisions made about Chipmunk Creek drainage have nothing to do with their project.

“Those are decisions made by all the stakeholders,” he said. They include motorized groups, as well as the B.C. Mountaineering Club, Chilliwack Outdoor club, Fraser Valley Regional District, and more, but most importantly Cheam First Nation, Pelolxw Nations, and others on whose traditional territory the Chipmunk Creek area encompasses.

“Our project will only be one voice at that table. To suggest that we as proponents have any control over this area is simply not true.”

The group reps said they initially met with the project proponent last fall to talk about these concerns.

The groups met on Jan. 5 as a group to talk about their options, reiterating plans to try to work out a solution.

“In consideration of the thousands of volunteer hours put into the area by all our associations and local clubs including trail development, maintenance, and cleanups over the last 70 years, we feel it is important that our members be considered and consulted when making decisions that will affect these public riding areas. We strongly believe that a workable solution can be found to meet all parties’ needs,” the motorized groups’ letter said.

“We encourage the supporters of this project to consider the impacts of all outdoor recreation groups and encourage the proponent to work with us to mitigate these concerns before moving forward.”

The letter of concern about trail access was signed by:

Chris D’Silva, president, ATVBC Quad Riders Association of BC;

Peter Sprague, executive director, BC Off-Road Motorcycle Association;

Donegal Wilson, executive director, BC Snowmobile Federation; and

Kim Reeves, president, Four Wheel Drive Association of BC.

A perusal of the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of the gondola project website, it actually makes it clear that no motorized vehicle access will be permitted.

“Will the tenure allow for access by motorized vehicles (e.g. ATVs, Quads) and for camping?”

“No, the tenure will exclude such uses to allow for recovery and stewardship of lands within,” is the response in the FAQs from the proponent. Faulkner added that despite this, they are indeed talking about the opportunity for an alternative loop ride.

Elsewhere in the FAQs: “A key goal of the project is to provide stewardship to protect, enhance, and regenerate habitat wherever possible in partnership with First Nations rights holders on whose traditional territory this is located.”

RELATED: Gondola gets backing from Eastern FV leaders

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Motorized off-road sport groups say the Cascade Gondola Project will impact their trail access. (Submitted)

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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