Trent Ernst, Editor
On June 19, Steve Thomson came to Tumbler Ridge to tour the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery and the Peace Region Paleontological Centre to discuss the protection of fossils in BC.
While he was here, he announced $20,000 in funding to maintain the road out to Kinuseo. “It’s an issue that the mayor and the MLA came to see me about in Victoria,” said Minister Tomson, “expressing concern over the quality of the road out to the area, and the fact that it needed work.”
Based on the information that was provided, says the Minister, he worked hard to find some money to grade the road, “so that when we bring tourists to the area, the experience going out and back that turned a very positive experience into a negative one.”
According to Mayor Wren, the initial grading is already underway, and should be completed by the time this hits print.
The road is regularly maintained to km 27, where there is oil and gas development.
However, the last 18 km leading up to the park is maintained on an ad hoc basis.
There’s also some funding for follow-up work on the road in August or September.
But what is the future of the Murray Forest Service Road?
The first road to Kinuseo Falls was the Monkman Pass Route, built in the 1930s and early 40s. When World War II broke out, the road was mostly abandoned.
In the 1960s and 70s, the road was upgraded for logging in the Imperial Creek area, and you can still see the remains of an old bee-hive burner in the forest across the Murray River from the campsite, as well as the remains of the old bridge across the Murray.
The road was again abandoned, and sometime in the early 1980s, the bridges, which were in poor condition to begin with, were removed. For the better part of the decade, the only way into see Kinuseo Falls was to head in along the old road in the late summer, once the water was down, in a vehicle that was able to ford the half a dozen or so creek crossings.
The Murray Forest Service road to Monkman Provincial Park and Kinuseo Falls was constructed in 1991–92. During that time, the campground, viewing platform over Kinuseo Falls and trails were constructed. “The surface is rough in places,” says the Monkman Park Management plan in 1994, “but it is drivable by most vehicles.”
According to the Management plan, “BC Parks and Canadian Forest Products are currently working on the terms for a Park Use Permit that will allow a forest access road to be built through the Intensive Recreation Zone of the park. Construction of this road into the Murray River valley is part of the overall road access agreements in place including the Monkman Road from Tumbler Ridge that was built in 1991-92. The road will be planned and built as far from the campground as feasible and it will be maintained and operated to minimize effects on campground visitors. About two kilometres of the road will be within the park boundaries. The intention is for this road to be used for forestry access rather than for public access.”
To lessen the impact of logging vehicles heading up into the Imperial Creek Valley, the old bridge across the Murray, which crossed the Murray at the Kinuseo Falls Campground, was removed, and the road rerouted a few kilometres south of the campsite, falling off the Bulley Creek road, which was also built at that time.
Even in 1994, the most common complaint from visitors was still that the road was rough in places. “This may keep some people from returning to Monkman,” said the management plan. “As government funding becomes available, the road will be improved.”
In that time, though, the funding has dried up. While the road is maintained during periods of active logging, the condition of the road has degenerated to a point where, in 2010, many people pronounced the road un-drivable. Those who did go out to the falls drove with one wheel mostly in the ditch.
In 2011, Blair Lekstrom, the then minister of highways announced nearly $1-million in road improvements to a stretch of the road between kilometres 24 and 52. However, the work didn’t start until late fall, wrapping up in November of that year, and, by the time the road had thawed out, the condition was only marginally better than the previous year.
The road itself is a means to an end. It is the easiest way for tourists to access Kinuseo Falls. There are other, arguably better ways to do so. But they are also more expensive. A jet boat tour with Wild River Adventure Tours will take you to the base of the falls, while a flight with Ridge Rotors will take you past not only Kinuseo, but the Cascades and the Monkman Glacier as well.
But most tourists can’t afford to fly or even catch a jet boat, so they choose to drive. While many locals are used to travelling on backroads, visitors from the city are not used to rough roads. One unlucky traveler I spoke to got two flat tires on the trip out to the falls, and the campground, once reasonably popular, now goes virtually unvisited, as people are not willing to risk driving the road with an RV.
Part of the problem is that the road does not fall under any one jurisdiction. The first, paved section is looked after by the Ministry of Highways. The next section, to Km 52, is a forest service road, and is user maintained. The last few kilometres are within the park, and fall under the jurisdiction of BC Parks.
And while funds to maintain the road have been found for this year, what will happen next year? Or the year after?
Minister Thomson is unwilling to say what form that might take, but says they are working on it. “Mike (Bernier) has done a lot of work to bring this forward. We wanted to make sure we were able to respond to the immediate pressures, which we’ve done. We recognize that we need to work on a long term solution, but for this year, it was important to get that initial work done. We have to work through the issues of major users. That’s part of a bigger issue that we’re working on through resource road legislation. We will certainly make this part of the long-term discussion. We’ve got more km of forest service roads than highways by a long stretch. We wanted to make sure we addressed this in the short term, and that will give us time to discuss long-term solutions.”