Vedder Mountain resident Katie Burge (centre) explains to recreation officer Mike Peters (right) that she needs an open western access road to get home easily.

Vedder Mountain resident Katie Burge (centre) explains to recreation officer Mike Peters (right) that she needs an open western access road to get home easily.

Setting a new vision for Vedder Mountain

Around 100 curious and concerned residents came out to see maps for the planned Vedder Mountain interpretive forest last week.

Around 100 curious and concerned residents came out to see maps for the planned Vedder Mountain interpretive forest Wednesday night in Yarrow.

The provincial Recreation Sites and Trails branch of the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resources Operations is preparing an application to convert 3,200 hectares of provincial Crown land on Vedder Mountain into an interpretive forest site. The designation would mean additional funding for facilities and maintenance on a mountain where both recreational and illegal use, such as dumping, are rapidly increasing.

Vedder Mountain houses a hive of diverse interests, with sometimes conflicting needs. Loggers harvest the trees, residents expect peaceful living, and recreational groups want open access to trails.

Many of the recreational groups cannot use the trails at the same time. For example, an all-terrain vehicle or a hiker with a dog may spook a horserider.

Through the Vedder Mountain Trails Association, six different groups have been cooperatively using the trails for years. This includes the Backcountry Horseman of BC, Vedder Running Club, Fraser Valley Mountain Bike Association, Chilliwack Outdoor Club, Cascade Off Road Motorcycle Club, and Lower Mainland ATV Club.

VMTA president Dr. Mark Steinebach believes everyone can use the trails as long as they modify their behaviour.

“It’s not possible for every group to have everything,” he said, but all groups can have some of their needs met.

Steinebach believes this cooperation can extend to incorporating non-recreational interests in the interpretive forest site.

One key interest group are local residents who need easy access to their homes.

“I was told I could be denied access,” said resident Katie Burge of the interpretive forest’s plan to have public access from the east side of the mountain. Burge lives on the west, and an eastern-only access route would force her to drive hours around the mountain to get home. “This makes me uneasy. I just want access to my property.”

The only access road on the west is private property, which Burge is using with the owner’s permission.

Some landowners on the west side have discussed barring the road to prevent trespassing, and limit partying, discharging weapons, and garbage dumping on the mountain.

“I don’t think it’s necessary for us to do that when the road’s been there since the 1800s,” said Burge.

Provincial recreation officer Mike Peters has no plans to limit access, but said that it is “up to the private landowner what to do with the road.”

This concern can be resolved, believes Steinebach. He used an example from 2005, when VMTA successfully negotiated with forestry company NorthWest Hardwoods to preserve trails within the company’s allowable logging area. Based on consultations with VMTA, the logger worked around trails and restored those affected. Continued logging access to Vedder Mountain trees is a cornerstone of the interpretive forest site.

For curious residents learning of the project for the first time, the initial impression was positive.

“It sounds good, it sounds like they want to fix it,” said Herb Friesen of the plan’s relationship to garbage dumping on the mountain. From his home on Majuba Hill Road, he frequently hears the gunshots from recreational shooting, which he considers a disturbance.

Peter and Cyndi Handler drove in from near Harrison Mills for the meeting to learn from the Vedder Mountain experience, and bring the lessons back to their side of the Fraser River, where they see similar problems.

“My brother’s an avid dirt biker, my sister an avid backcountry horsewoman, and I’m an avid hiker, cyclist. We all respect each other for differences of interest no matter what the motivation is. If it worked in our network, why can’t it in the public arena,” said Cyndi.

“There’s enough room for everyone,” said husband Peter. “I’m pro-logging, pro-biking, but let’s do it in a responsible way.”

They want to see adequate secure parking, so that recreational users don’t become targets for theft. And the Handlers are concerned that once the interpretive forest is set up, illegal dumping, and discharging of weapons, may move elsewhere, potentially to their area.

The government expects a decision on the interpretive forest by fall 2013. The project report is on the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations website.

“If you don’t have control, nobody’s out there, it’ll happen,” said report author Gene MacInnes of illegal activities on the mountain.

Meanwhile, responding to a story in The Progress about illegal dumping on Vedder Mountain, the Valley Permaculture Guild is organizing the first cleanup of the west side next Sat., April 6, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We are promoting and organizing the cleanup because it directly affects all of us,” wrote organizer Dayna Fidler in an email. “Our downriver neighbour creek and water flows through all the garbage, shot shells and mess that leads into fisheries, and our rivers and our neighbours’ rivers.”

Local companies are donating the use of heavy-duty equipment, and the City of Chilliwack is waving the dumping fee.

There will be signs on Majuba Hill Road directing people to the cleanup location.