B.C. is removing the “recreational trail” designation from a 67-kilometre stretch of the Columbia and Western Trail between Fife and Castlegar, saying that maintenance along that corridor is best left to logging companies who use the rail grade as an access route to cut blocks. The change reclassifies the stretch as a resource road, opening the way to logging trucks.
“With this change, if a road permit is issued to a logging company, that company would be required to undertake and pay for maintenance on the section of the route covered by that permit,” the province said in a July 16 release, which pointed to “challenging” features along the corridor including trestles, culverts and terrain that the province says are difficult to maintain under the current structure.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said in an email that 20 of the 67 kilometres are currently under road permits with companies, with another six kilometres likely to be added. The remainder, they said, would remain “non-status for the time being.” Where road permits are in place, the permit holder owns liability, the spokesperson said. Elsewhere, liability falls to the Crown.
“It’s about getting some proper funding streams in place to maintain the infrastructure,” said Columbia and Western Trail Society president Jeremy Nelson, who welcomes the change. By permitting resource activity such as logging along the corridor, the route will be now be subject to management and maintenance standards for resource roads in the province.
Last summer, the province launched a public consultation process to help determine whether or not to remove the trail’s recreation designation. “Currently, there is significant use of the rail grade by on-highway vehicles by both public and industry,” noted a letter sent to user groups by Recreation Sites and Trails BC director John Hawkings last August. “The Ministry is proposing the administrative transfer to ensure management is appropriate to current use.”
Opponents of the shift from recreation trail to resource road last summer pointed to a lack of sustained provincial funding for the change. Ciel Sander, a Greenwood resident and president of the Trails Society of BC, said at the time that a commitment for funding and maintenance needed to come from higher up in order to lean into the Great Trail vision for B.C., (formerly the Trans-Canada Trail).
The full 162-kilometre Columbia and Western Rail Trail corridor runs from Midway to Castlegar along the former Canadian Pacific railway line. The entire route was legally established as a recreational trail in 2011 under the Forest and Range Practices Act.
Money for maintenance
Logging companies such as Interfor have already been permitted to use the corridor, and were active on the trail this past winter too, hauling timber and repairing damaged infrastructure. In January, Interfor Woodlands Manager Geoff Bekker told Black Press that the company had replaced a crumbling culvert along the route, costing the company more than $100,000.
“It was clearly collapsing, everybody agreed it was, and so when fixed it. That’s one of the arguments that we have for using the rail grade,” Bekker said at the time, noting that the companies who use the corridor have a practical interest in seeing it maintained. He also added that without access to it, Interfor would have to develop other routes to access its tenure adjacent to the trail.
“If you have an existing linear structure that can service as a road, why would you want to not use that and build a parallel structure right next to it, with all the environmental issues that come with building more roads?” he said.
Bekker also said at the time that Interfor would look to use the rail grade outside of peak-use periods, in line with what the province is asking under the new designation. “We feel strongly that you can do multi-use on that rail grade,” he said. “I know we’re certainly willing to work with timing – not be out there when the bicycle folks are out there using it or hikers or whoever using it, and using it for the appropriate time for for harvesting and using it as a road structure.”