Trent Ernst, Editor
Snowmobilers around Tumbler Ridge are operating under the mistaken impression that the area’s most popular sledding areas—the Core Lodge, Babcock Mountain and Thunder Mountain—have been designated as official riding areas. But according to Tim Bennett, the local Recreation Officer, none of the riding areas around Tumbler Ridge are officially protected.
“There are no partnership agreements in the area,” says Bennett. “If a company comes in to develop that area and are willing to work with snowmobilers, that’s great, but if the company doesn’t want to, they don’t have to accommodate anyone. No one has tenure on that area.”
Bennett says that the only trail ever established in the area was a short access trail to the Babcock Mountain area. “That trail was basically just the access road to the Core Lodge area. Because the mine is there, now people can drive back there anyway. So in short, no, there are no managed riding areas.”
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Ridge Riders snowmobile club was one of the most active in the province, expanding and promoting the riding areas around Tumbler Ridge. But when the mines shut down around the turn of the century, the club slowly faded. There have been a number of attempts to resurrect the club, but lack of membership led to the club basically folding two years ago. “I was shocked to see what the membership was last year: one. Nobody bought memberships.”
That’s Donegal Wilson. She’s the office manager for the BC Snowmobile Federation. Two years ago, there weren’t enough members for the club to be an active BCSF club. This year, the club asked her not to send memberships.
“I would love to see the club going but (the club says) there is no interest,” says Wilson. “The website for the club was fantastic. It seemed like they were really active, and then…. As of now, there appears to be no books, no interest, and no club. Without people buying memberships in the club, it just can’t survive.”
For the last few years, the club has been held together by spit and bailing twine and a few passionate members, but after years of lack of interest, there is no longer a snowmobile club in Tumbler Ridge.
Wilson says that’s sad, especially with all the potential issues facing snowmobilers in the Peace. With the new Caribou Habitat Management Plan, says Wilson, there’s a chance that the area could be impacted.
Matt Austin, Project Director – Peace Northern Caribou Plan for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says that riders shouldn’t be too worried. “There are no new closures,” says Austin. “And the access closures in place don’t necessarily apply to snow machines. There are closures, but those have been in place for years.”
Austin says that snowmobiles aren’t usually the problem in caribou management. “Really, the conversations I have the disturbances from motorized winter activity is not a significant impact. The issue is around compliance in summer time.”
The reason that riders in the Peace shouldn’t be too worried, says Austin, especially in the face of closures elsewhere in the province, is that the caribou in the Peace are woodland caribou. “These caribou are different than mountain caribou. Woodland caribou winter on windswept ridges. As a result, it’s not a very good place to run a sled across. The potential conflict is much lower than elsewhere in the province. There’s no indication that this is a significant issue.”
Having said that, Austin is quick to point out that the data is incomplete. “The one thing we’re thinking about is packed trail caused by a snow machine facilitates wolf access to that area. We haven’t talked specific access closures yet, but there is a potential cause for closures.”
In a post on the website www.snowandmud.com, a rider from Prince George says that riders in the Peace need to watch their back. “From our experience in Prince George, the Ministry of Environment is all nice until they drop the hammer on you.”
YamaDooPolCat, as he is known on the forums, says that in Prince George, the club was invited to review on a map what areas it was riding. At the next meeting, they were shown a map showing the areas that are proposed to be closed. (“just about everything,” says YamaDooPolCat.) The club had a chance to provide input and consultation. “Then they announced the closures, just like they showed at the last meeting, with no changes or consideration for anything we said.”
But despite these potential threats to the trails, riders in Tumbler Ridge seem unwilling to put in the effort. Most people just assume that they’ll be able to ride wherever they want to, which, says Wilson, is a dangerous assumption. “You just have to go to Smithers to see what apathy gets you. The snowmobilers there didn’t take part in the discussion around land management, and now they have nowhere to go.”
Many of the trails, she says, have been taken over by the local outdoor club and what were once great places to sled are now closed to motorized vehicles. Or look at the Langley snowmobile club, who take care of trails in the Princeton area, because there are no places around Langley open to snowmobiles.
Tumbler Ridge riders might be shocked to learn that the trails aren’t protected. Wasn’t this ground zero for one of the most active snowmobile clubs twenty years ago? Didn’t they get tenure on the land?
The short answer, says Bennett is no. “Back in the eighties, they had authorization to use the land, but it was year-to-year. The club renewed their authorization yearly. If it wasn’t renewed, the person who issued that wasn’t going to track them down. So if the club folded for a year, the history goes out the window. You miss renewing that year and the authorization is up. It was a limited use as well. They just had the authorization to maintain that trail.”
Bennett says that the best plan is to get tenure on the trail, but someone needs to spearhead that. The most likely suspect, he says, is a club. “It’s best to go through the tenure process, and the Ministry enters into an agreement with the club.”
He says that the areas are known to the government, and that there is even a new mapping program happening for many of the riding areas in Tumbler Ridge. “The recreation sites and trail programs are working with Canadian Avalanche Association to do terrain mapping. We have three areas ready to go, and a number that we’re planning on doing next year. The Chetwynd club has adopted the Hasler area. They have a club and they’re being active in managing the area, and establishing trails. Even though there is no club in Tumbler, we are doing terrain mapping, because we know these are areas that are used.”
Bennett says that if a club were to have tenure on the trails, it is entered into the GIS database. “If a mining or wind or resource industry came along and said ‘we want to do something here’, there’s a red flag that pops up alerting us to potential conflict. For any of the Tumbler Ridge riding areas, nothing is going to show up right now. But if a club had tenure, that forces them to come to us and sit down and talk to the local club and come up with an agreement.”
That’s what happened during the construction of the Quality Wind Project. The Dawson Creek Club has tenure on the Dawson to Tumbler trail, a route that was popular years ago, but suffered after a decade of low snow. It’s a trail the Dawson Creek club wants to start using again. Bennett says “If that hadn’t shown up on our system, then the riders would have gone to ride it and said ‘holy, what happened to our trail?’”
Richard Cronier is the president of the Paradise Valley Snowmobile Association out of Dawson Creek, and the Northeast Director for the BC Snowmobile Federation. He says the club is working on rerouting the section impacted by the Quality wind project.
“When we got going on this with Quality Wind, we got a statement that said in the end they will replace the trail. We have it in writing that they will be rerouting this.”
Cronier is hoping that this year’s major snowfalls are a sign of things to come. “If there’s one thing I’d love to see is reconnecting to the Tumbler Ridge Trails. If I could accomplish that, I’d have hit the jackpot. It’s so scenic. There’s so much wildlife. That’s our goal at our end.”
However, there is no one in Tumbler Ridge who he is able to share that vision with. “We’d love to see someone at that end pick it up. It’s all winter passable.”
Cronier says that he loves riding in Tumbler Ridge with his wife and kids. “TR probably has the best family riding,” he says. “And we’re in shock that there’s no club there, no protection for the trails. My youngest just turned 13, and we’re worried. Some of his best memories are from the Tumbler area. Core Lodge, the Back Meadows. That’s where we like to go ride.
Cronier says the Dawson club maintains 300 km of trail. “When I started ten years ago, industry was very low impact. In the last few years, industry has been taking over our trails. It’s been a lot of discussion with industry sitting down and talking to people about how we’re going to manage what’s going on in the backcountry.”
Cronier says Tumbler needs someone to fight for the rights of snowmobilers, to fight for their ability to go and snowmobile. However, he says that’s not going to be the Dawson club. “The stuff we’ve got here is more than enough to keep us occupied. A lot of the club members are busy, we struggle with labour shortage. We’re not sure where to go. We do not feel we have the time, energy and resources to manage another area.”
Cronier says that it’s tough to drum up support. “We live in a world where everyone wants something tangible today. I paid my membership, give me something I can touch hold and feel. You get discounts on insurance and hotel, but what’s intangible is that voice to government, you have someone fighting to keep our areas open.
“We take for granted that we can just go ride anywhere, but without a group, you have no say when they take that away.”