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Future of motorized use of Mount Gardner trails unclear after provincial decision

Decision letter from the province provides some clarity and some more questions
Sign posts at Mount Gardner Laura Road trailhead
The future of motorized use of Mount Gardner trails is up in the air.

A lack of clarity in the future Mount Gardner recreational use had Bowen Island Municipality’s council members voicing frustration at the regular council meeting Monday evening. 

A letter dated Sept. 20 from Recreation Sites and Trails BC, delivered the long-awaited decision on whether the province would be banning motorized use of the Mount Gardner Crown lands. 

“RSTBC with assistance from the recreational user groups will create a non-motorized recreation experience within the Mount Gardner Recreation Site, leading from a highway vehicle accessible trailhead to the summit of Mount Gardner,” read the decision. “The summit ridge of Mount Gardner is to provide a non-motorized recreation experience.” [That is the entire text of the decision though several paragraphs of reasoning follow.]

What exactly is meant by the decision, staff and council weren’t sure. 

“The only thing that’s really certain in the letter is that a decision has been made by the ministry that the summit ridge will be excluded from motorized recreational use, and that…there will be the provision for an experience from the highway to the summit where there’ll be no motorized use,” said BIM CAO Liam Edwards at the meeting. 

“When a letter is written in such a way that it eludes clarification, it will be subject to interpretation,” said Coun. Michael Kaile. “I hope the writer will assist us greatly in saying exactly what it is that he wished to be conveyed because it’s eluded us all so far.”

Coun. Maureen Nicholson asked for the letter to be released to the public, and council agreed. The entire letter is now online as part of the meeting’s agenda package.

In 2018, three local groups – Bowen Island Trail Society, Bowen Trail Riders Association and Bowen Island Horse Owners and Riders Association – signed a two-year partnership agreement allowing them to work on the trails. The three groups formed a trails coalition, but the coalition dissolved a couple of years later amidst the partnership agreement expiring and local controversy over whether or not motorized vehicles belong on the mountain.

In April 2020, BIM council requested the province ban motorized vehicles on the slopes of Bowen’s tallest hill, following up on more than 100 letters from community members. 

“Restricting all motorized use in the recreation site has a high risk of creating conflict and discord amongst historical users, with a low likelihood of success of preventing motorized use in the area,” reasoned RSTBC’s regional manager for the coast Robert van der Zalm in the letter. “Restricting motorized use would require a level of enforcement that is not currently available. Without an effective enforcement plan, making regulatory change on its own is not justifiable.”

BIM is engaging with the three previous agreement holders and RSTBC’s Tom Blackbird “to better interpret, understand the decision letter and to create a path forward” said Edwards at the council meeting. It’s also reaching out to other groups who may be interested in being involved with Mount Gardner stewardship in the future. Edwards added that the ministry agrees it would like to see BIM become the primary agreement holder, when it comes to Mount Gardner, and then the municipality would work with the other local groups. 

Any formalized response and path forward will come back for council direction, said Edwards. 

All three of the former agreement holder groups said that they were supportive of the RSTBC decision.

“We are pleased that we've been given the opportunity to move forward in a collaborative manner,” read BTRA board’s statement. “BTRA is excited for a positive future and continued stewardship of the Mount Gardner recreation site.”

“Bowen Island Trail Society is pretty supportive of the provincial decision,” said BITS president Phil Osborne. “And we're looking forward to working with the other stakeholders, including the municipality, on the next steps in planning the way forward on Mount Gardener’s trails.”

“The Bowen Island Horse Owner's and Rider's Association is supportive of the decision made by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, as we support safe, shared use of trails on Bowen," said BIHORA in a statement. "We look forward to further discussion with the Bowen community, including members of BTRA, BITS and the municipality, to help determine what the recreational plan will look like for Mt Gardner."