ATV access to the top of Mt. Gardner could be in Bowen’s not-to-distant future.
Bowen Trail Riders Association (BTRA) is asking for public input in a proposal to build a three-kilometre, two-track trail to the summit. The proposal itself has had a mixed reception among the public and members of the Bowen Trails Coalition.
The three member organizations of the coalition: Bowen Island Trail Society (BITS), Bowen Island Horse Owners and Riders Association (BIHORA) and BTRA signed a memorandum of understanding with the province in May 2018, giving the local organizations the ability to modify the Crown land trails.
In the year and a half since, the coalition members, together and separately, have built bridges (literally) and blazed trails (literally). Spokespeople for each organization have said that the decision-making process of the coalition is consensus-based, so all must agree before proceeding with a proposal. So far the project hasn’t proceeded past the proposal stage.
BTRA president Kevan Bernards said that it was Tom Blackbird, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources officer who oversees the coalition, who initially raised the idea of a motorized, two-track trail up the mountain. The suggestion was to provide access to the mountain and the infrastructure at the summit for maintenance personnel. (It turns out that for insurance reasons the tower servicers can’t use ATVs for their work but the route could be used for trail maintenance.)
BTRA has marked a potential route starting from the top of the hikers trail service road. The route BTRA has scoped out initially follows an old logging road up to below the first swamp encountered on the hiking trail and then goes up the North ridge to the summit. The project would break a new trail on the land.
“The existing hiking trails are pretty rugged, they're rough and they don't really lend themselves to that without major reroutes and being reworked,” said Bernards. “I think everyone kind of wants the rugged characteristic left intact.”
“Preserving those [existing] trails is a big part of it,” Bernards said. “It’s a goal…we don’t want to interrupt the dynamic there.”
Under the current proposal Bernards said that while the trail would go to the summit, public motor vehicles wouldn’t have access all the way to the summit––at a certain point there would likely be a gate.
Emergency access for rescue personnel is one of the purposes Bernards gave for the route. “If someone gets lost or injured, there’s an easy fast way up and to get them off the mountain.”
While he was still fire chief, Ian Thompson wrote a letter of support for a motor vehicle trail up the mountain. Acting fire chief Aaron Hanen said that firefighters are up on Mt. Gardner once or twice a year to help people for issues of varying severity. At least one person has been medevacked from the summit this year.
Alicia Hoppenrath is president of the trail society. She says that while the organization hasn’t officially stated a position, and she isn’t personally completely against the proposal, there are deep concerns among the organization’s members about allowing motorized vehicles up the mountain. She said that of particular concern for BITS members are off-island trail riders discovering Mt. Gardner as a destination and how that would change the mountain landscape and recreation.
“We’ve just put a pause on it,” said Hoppenrath. She said that BITS has requested more information about mitigation. “We see it as a very changing paradigm of having motorized access to the summit.”
“We do support the idea of better emergency access and servicing and things…but that’s ultimately secondary to the idea that there’ll be a trail to the top that will be likely quite used.”
Hoppenrath said that BITS will reach out to its members to see what they think of the proposal and analyze that before publishing a position.
In a written statement, BIHORA’s chair Kristina Calli noted the work that BTRA has put into the project but didn’t say where its membership stands. “As the coalition is still in the process of discussing BTRA’s proposal, BIHORA will not provide an official statement on it at this time,” wrote Calli. “Members of the coalition are committed to only moving forward with a project once we reach consensus, and we value the public’s feedback to help us with this process.”
Bowen Island Conservancy isn’t part of the trails coalition but its mandate is to protect and preserve the island’s natural environment. When reached for comment, conservancy president Owen Plowman said that it’s not entirely clear why the trail is needed and that he’s concerned about the “if you build it, they will come” effect of such a trail for motor vehicle users. Plowman said that community input in such a project is crucial.
“Any work that really changes the use of an area like Mt. Gardner should really have some community consultation before it goes forward,” he said.
If the proposal passes through the coalition, it’ll go up to the provincial level. Ultimately, decisions affecting the Mt. Gardner Crown lands are up to the province and Tom Blackbird.
Blackbird says that if there’s going to be a lot of ground disturbance, stream crossings, machinery there’ll be further assessments.
“Our main concern is always looking at species at risk archaeological, any environmental conditions,” said Blackbird. “When I do a review of something, I have to consider all of those before saying yes.”
“Pretty much any new trail that is going to be requiring a machine or anything like that, I usually try and push for a minimum of having an archeological assessment on it,” said Blackbird. “And then we’ve got access to maps and things like that.”
Blackbird also suggested that one compromise could be making the trail available to motor vehicles only on certain days of the week.
Bernards said that this trail project will likely be in the consultation stage for at least the first half of the new year.