Anyone heading down to the Vedder River from the Hopedale Road parking lot for the first time this spring may be in for a surprise.
Resident Bonnie Whyte was shocked to find vehicle access blocked with a new gate.
“Imagine my horror when I drove out to the river on the weekend of April 3 and found a locked gate blocking my access to the river and railway bridge,” she wrote in a letter to The Progress.
“I realize I am not the only one shocked by what has happened.”
Driving right down to that section of the river was one of her very favourite things about Chilliwack.
Whyte is circulating a petition, requesting that City of Chilliwack reopen the section of gravel road near the river. So far it has 160 signatures.
“This year, the full impact of how many irate persons there are going to be at seeing their access denied will be happening soon, when people head out to the river in the next couple of months,” she said.
Just last summer she counted at least 200 people on the gravel bar nearby.
“Families having picnics, swimmers, fishermen, and sun bathers were all enjoying themselves.”
Council voted in October to close off the area to vehicle access with the support of provincial officials, said Mayor Sharon Gaetz. It’s technically Crown land, not City of Chilliwack.
The reasons cited for installing the gate include illegal garbage dumping, overnight campers and parties, as well as pedestrian safety issues, and pollution threats to the sensitive riverside environment.
Whyte noted that city officials agreed 17 years ago to keep it open. An earlier petition to keep the same access point to the river open collected 850 signatures back in 1998-1999.
But things were different in Chilliwack many years ago when that was agreed to, Gaetz pointed out.
“The fact is communities change. Our values change. We certainly didn’t see the kind of traffic we are seeing now, and the blatant disregard for the environment.”
Mayor Gaetz said it is unfortunate they have to step in and put in a gate. They want families and anglers to have access to the river.
“But we agreed we couldn’t sit around and let it get worse,” said Gaetz.
Garbage dumping is a big concern.
“People have no understanding of how fragile a waterway is. I would suspect most of the people doing the damage are not Chilliwack residents.”
Whyte said it’s also about providing river access to those with disabilities, who can only drive to the water, and can’t manage to walk it.
The mayor said they sat down with Fraser Valley Salmon Society members and other user groups, and worked on providing easy access to the river for all citizens, including anglers or river users with disabilities or mobility challenged.
Parking spaces will be reserved for handicapped parking. There is vehicle access to the water’s edge at the Vedder River, under Hwy 1, and there are plans to offer it at new locations, including Keith Wilson Road and Bergman Road.
“We may not have been able to achieve complete consensus, but the biggest issue for us was the trucks. We talked about the environmental damage. You just can’t have a beater truck parked in the middle of the river.”
Not everyone has been convinced the gate was necessary, however.
“I get it. Some people don’t like change,” said Gaetz. “But in the end we know most will appreciate the environmental values that we’re protecting, in trying to save the Chilliwack-Vedder River system from harm.”
It was the reckless behaviour of a few causing this result.
“So should all of those causing these problems be allowed, through their actions, to ruin this for everyone else?” said Whyte. “Clearly the answer is no.”
She hopes city officials will reverse the decision after receiving the new petition.