The reputed tranquility of the Chilliwack River Valley is attracting more and more permanent residents into new subdivisions off of Chilliwack Lake Road. But those living closest to the river are having their peaceful retreats disturbed by the sound of all-terrain vehicles.
“This was a very, very, very quiet area. It just seems to have been invaded,” said Ken Stobbs.
His family has owned a cottage on Bell Acres Road for four decades, where Stobbs, now a Vancouver resident, has spent most summer weekends. The family bought the property when it was surrounded by wilderness and farmland. Now it’s in a subdivision with approximately 100 other properties.
The lots lie alongside the Chilliwack River. Directly on the other side of the 50-metre wide divide is Crown land with a network of designated ATV trails.
Residents say the sounds of all-terrain vehicles travels straight across the water.
“It just rockets right across, just like they’re going past our bedroom water,” said Stobbs. “We have stopped going (to the cottage) basically because of this. It’s a really horrific situation.”
On the morning of Saturday Aug. 3, a long weekend, the muffled sounds of quads and dirtbikes were a common background noise. A handful of gutturally loud vehicles went by within the hour. According to several residents, it gets much worse, with the loudest going past as often as every few minutes.
For those riding on the trails on the other side, it is easy to forget that there are several hundred residents a river width away, because the forest service road and trails are almost completely surrounded by woods. There are only a few places where a gap in the trees opens up to reveal the houses on the other side.
Surrey resident and ATV rider Matt Paradis, for example, had no idea that there were permanent residents alongside the river. It was his first time to the area on Saturday.
“It’s hard to find a place where you can go and do this kind of stuff. They’ve cut it out of a lot of parts,” said Paradis.
One third of the 250 campers at the designated campgrounds around Tamihi Bridge last weekend had ATVs, according to the recreation site supervisor.
Another rider, a Chilliwack resident named Clayton, has been dirtbiking on the trails every week this summer. He knows about the houses on the other side and sympathizes with the noise complaints, but feels he has the right to ride the trails.
“It’s one of the only places to go in Chilliwack, and this was here before the houses were here,” he said. “I understand about the noise. (If I lived here) I would probably find it annoying too.”
He said his grandfather used to do rally races in the area.
The Chilliwack River Valley still retains the flavour of an authentic wild, drawing ATVers and residents alike. But Stobbs warns that this gives a false impression.
“That Valley has an appearance of being a great wilderness area that’s very close to a lot of places. But it’s pretty populated,” said Stobbs.
The Fraser Valley Regional District is “highly aware” of the noise issue, and has had a noise and disturbance bylaw in place since 1988 for the Chilliwack River Valley. However, FVRD cannot enforce the bylaw on the Crown land that ATV riders use.
“In very practical terms, in this kind of a situation, it would be very difficult for us to actually enforce when you’ve got the number of people on ATVs doing this,” said FVRD’s general manager of electoral area services Suzanne Gresham. “However we are going to be looking for a coordinated approach with the provincial government…We’re looking into what the enforcement strategy could look like.”
She added that the FVRD was recently made aware of the issue, and is now trying to deal with it.
But residents maintain that they have been complaining to FVRD and the police for years. Stobbs and neighbours have noticed a marked increase in the noise level this summer.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever experienced. By far. It’s just become such a popular place,” said Stobbs.
When he’s at the property with family or friends, everyone eats inside trying to get away from the noise. At times it’s loud enough that guests have to yell to hear each other.
Around the ATV trails, the police try to chase down the loudest quads and dirtbikes where riders have made illegal modifications to the manufacturer’s muffler, according to the recreation site supervisor. But it is difficult to identify the riders after they’ve descended because of the full face helmets.
Camping has been banned between Vedder Road and the Tamihi Bridge since 2007, except in designated provincial campgrounds. The no camping regulation was the first major step in cutting out much of the noisy partying, illegal dumping, and environmental destruction that had been a mainstay of the region for 30 years.