A proposed two-track motorized vehicle trail up Mt. Gardner isn’t going ahead for now.
The provincial officer who oversees the Bowen Crown lands says that he’s asked the Bowen Island Trails Coalition remove the proposed project from its 2020 operations plan.
“That trail has caused enough of a disturbance that we need to do more consultation if that plan is even going to move forward,” said Tom Blackbird, district recreation officer for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) Tuesday evening.
The three member groups of the trails coalition (Bowen Trail Riders Association, Bowen Island Trail Society and Bowen Island Horse Owners and Riders Association) signed a two-year partnership agreement with the province in 2018. The agreement allows the groups to do trail improvements, maintenance and construction on the Mt. Gardner Crown lands with provincial guidance. The agreement is due for renewal in May.
The Mt. Gardner proposal from the Trail Riders Association came to public attention in late 2019 when surveys circulated asking for public input for the idea of a two-track motorized vehicle route up the north ridge of the mountain.
While public reaction was mixed, there was a loud outcry against creating a route that could invite increased motorized usage of the mountain.
There were also concerns about community consultation. Earlier this month mayor and council sent a letter to Blackbird expressing concern about the proposal and asking for more information as BIM hadn’t yet had communications from the province about the trail.
At their Jan. 27 meeting, council heard that the trail wasn’t proceeding for now but councillors asked that they be informed of proposals affecting Crown lands on Bowen.
“We definitely have to get a bit more involved in what’s happening,” said Mayor Gary Ander at the meeting. “I don’t begrudge what they’re doing, the trails folks do such an amazing job but I think there’s a real pushback on motorized vehicles going up there.”
Ander asked if it’s possible to be included on the coalition’s mailing list.
The member groups of the Crown lands agreement met with Blackbird Tuesday evening.
“It seemed like one of the big sticking points that was holding up the group was they were feeling a lot of pressure from having to make decisions,” Blackbird told the Undercurrent after the meeting. “I clarified that the decision making process actually doesn’t rest with them.”
“It rests on my shoulders to make the decisions,” he said. “I want them to be able to share information back and forth and share it with the rest of the public and their stakeholders.”
Coalition members have previously said that group decisions need to be consensus-based but Blackbird said that was something they imposed on themselves, it wasn’t one of his requirements. “My requirement is just that you guys share information, I don’t need it to be consensus,” he told the group.
In a joint statement to the Undercurrent Wednesday morning, the three members of the current coalition said that they’ve agreed to work with Recreation Sites and Trails BC to develop an improved framework. The statement says that the framework is to replace the current coalition constitution and memorandum of understanding with the province. Ensuring robust public engagement and optimizing agreement holders’ interactions to save time and mitigate conflict number among the framework goals.
In conversation with the Undercurrent, Blackbird said that the partnership agreement is between the group as a whole and the province. Blackbird said that if an association were to decide to pull out of the partnership agreement, he would likely look for another group or two to take the spot. He also said that there’s room for new member groups as discussions for the partnership renewal proceed in coming months.
When asked about renewal, Blackbird said, “We will probably renew a partnership agreement –– what that’s going to look like to be based on the next couple months of discussions.”
Mt. Gardner two-track trail future
While the trail isn’t to proceed for now, it’s not necessarily dead. “Right now I think the focus is going to be on restructuring what the partnership agreement is going to look like and then at that point, we’d look at or not that’s an option of that trail even going forward,” said Blackbird.
He also reiterated that the decision as to whether or not the trail is built rests ultimately with him. If it’s a big project, he sends the proposal for a full referral, which can include archaeological assessment, species at risk, engineering assessment and community consultation.
“When they bring something to me, I don’t just make a decision based on their information. I still have to do my own background checks on it,” he said.