Trail closures, access issues under discussion in Pemberton 

A conflict between mountain bikers and a private-property owner over access to trails in Pemberton has led to the closure of three popular rides.

Smoke A Howie and portions of Cop Killer and Hawaii Five-O, which all lay on the north side of the Lillooet River, are now off-limits after the land owner was verbally abused and physically threatened by trail users.

"It’s totally understandable," said one Pemberton bike shop employee who did not want Pique Newsmagazine to use his name. "More and more people from out of town are coming up here to ride, but aren’t aware which land is private or public."

Land owners on both sides of the river have accused mountain bikers of trespassing, vandalizing existing fences and cutting new trails on private property.

"Everyone should stay on existing trails and respect closures, signs and fences," said the bike shop employee. "All it takes is a little bit of common sense.

"The long-term health of mountain biking in Pemberton could be at stake."

The use of recreational trails – not just by mountain bikers, but by users from across the outdoor spectrum that includes hikers, equestrians, dirtbikers, ATVers, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers – is a burgeoning issue in the Pemberton Valley.

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has even hired a graduate student from UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning on a four-month contract to do a recreational access study for the area.

Guy Patterson is in charge of the study and hosted the first in a series of public meetings last week that brought trail users and land owners together to discuss their various concerns.

The meetings will take place the second Thursday of every month.

"Basically, we’re just getting together to try and figure out the best way to formalize a trail network plan without losing access to them," said Patterson.

About 40 people – including representatives from the SLRD, the Village of Pemberton and the RCMP – turned out for last week’s session, which ended up lasting for three hours.

"Land owners expressed concern over the ecological impacts of some trails," he said.

One land owner had to re-plant a number of trees on the river bank that had been run over, while others asked about erosion issues on steep, dry slopes.

The group also discussed trail use and access issues in heavily used areas including Mosquito Lake, MacKenzie Basin and the river dykes along Pemberton Farm Road.

"We’re trying to use the public river dykes as the backbone of the plan," he said, adding that parts of the dyke are located on private land.

"That’s one of the big constraints right now. The dykes and a lot of the trails traverse both public and private land."

Other problem areas pointed out by Patterson include the B.C. Rail bridge that crosses the Lillooet River. "We’re exploring the option of a second bridge for public use but we’re limited by funding issues."

Despite the recent trail closures, Patterson is optimistic that trail users and land owners can reach some sort of agreement that will keep the rest open to public use.

"It’s not rocket science," he said. "It’s just a matter of getting everyone on the same page."

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