A question of access

Snowmobile tour operator wants tenure in Kimberley's watershed

An issue of access to the Mark Creek Valley and the Kimberley watershed is brewing, with Council somewhat divided on the matter.

The City doesn’t own the land in the watershed, nor does it have any control over some of the activities taking place within it. For instance, despite the City’s strong objections, logging continues to be allowed within the watershed. That’s a provincial decision.

There are also multiple private users, who simply ignore signage asking people to stay out and proceed to recreate as they wish within the watershed.

Council acknowledges that without 24 hour security — an impossibility — there will continue to be plenty of people accessing the watershed.

However, Council can control some commercial uses, and the issue before them at the moment is whether to allow an enterprise like a snowmobile tour operator to run tours on trails in the watershed.

There is a recommendation in front of Council that they not support ventures of these sort in the watershed. The recommendation has come from the Public Works and Utilities Committee.

At the regular meeting of Council this week, Jeff Cook, from Kimberley Snowmobile Adventures, visited to plead his case, and he does have support from at least one Councillor, Darryl Oakley.

It is Cook’s position that responsible recreation groups could have a special license of occupation in the watershed, and in fact act as stewards and be the eyes and ears for the City.

“We have to operate responsibly. We are in the public eye,” he said.

Cook says that Council is failing to understand his needs as a businessman.

The Mark Creek Valley is perfect for his tour business because of its proximity to town, quick access to good views, good cell phone coverage for emergencies, and low avalanche hazard, he says.

“If we lose access to the watershed, we can’t sustain our business,” he said.

He added that his company was extremely sensitive to the ecology of the watershed.

“We follow backcountry etiquette — leave no trace. Half our fleet is upgraded to four-stroke engines, which are much cleaner burning. We carry spill kits, and we’ve never had a leak. We never fuel up in the field. We don’t operate until there is enough snow to cover the trails.”

Cook said that forestry has a much bigger impact on the watershed than a snowmobile tour ever could, and he added that there was also trapping take place in the watershed, complete with a trapper’s cabin which is being used recreationally.

He said his company was asking for access to 5.7 k of trails with none of that distance being closer than 9.5 k to the reservoir.

“We ask that you don’t support the Committee recommendation to not give us tenure,” he said. “We’d like to take you up on your offer to communicate better with business.”