Cody Caves conundrum continues

Closed last year over dispute with operator, popular outdoor summer destination may again be out of the tourism fold this season.

BC Parks has been talking to the Canadian Cave Conservancy about managing the Cody Caves near Ainsworth

BC Parks has been talking to the Canadian Cave Conservancy about managing the Cody Caves near Ainsworth

It remains unclear whether spelunkers will have access to the Cody Caves this summer, as BC Parks still doesn’t have a guide for the underground attraction.

The caves closed to tours last year after the operator balked at a requirement in his permit to pay $250 per year or $1 per person, whichever was greater.

Kevin Stanway said the surcharge threatened his business model and the money collected wasn’t being reinvested in the park or its access road.

He wasn’t willing to increase his tour price of $18 per person to cover the added expense, and despite the intervention of MLA Michelle Mungall, the impasse was not resolved.

BC Parks couldn’t find another operator, so the caves near Ainsworth were placed off limits.

Hugh Ackroyd, Kokanee area supervisor, says they have since talked to the executive of the Canadian Cave Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in Nanaimo, about assuming management of the caves.

“They proposed hiring Kevin Stanway to run it for them, and we said we’d be fine with that,” Ackroyd says. “We’re waiting for a proposal from them.”

He says there are a few hurdles: the conservancy is preoccupied with another set of caves on Vancouver Island and also concerned about the road up to the Cody Caves.

“If it’s a situation where if the road is in really poor shape, they feel their business plan may not make it,” Ackroyd says. “My rangers just started this week, so I’m going to get them to go up and check on it. With the snow loads we’ve had this year, there’s probably still a fair bit of snow on that road.”

Responsibility for the road falls to the Ministry of Forests and the licensee, Meadow Creek Cedar.

The caving season usually begins around July 1, so Ackroyd says it’s getting late not to have a tour guide in place.

He adds if they can’t find someone, the caves would likely be closed another year. In the days before contractors were hired to provide tours, they were left open to the genwweral public, but “it was felt it was not a great thing for the caves, and there were also liabilities with people crawling around in there unsupervised.”

Although some caves in the province remain ungated and use caution signs as waivers, Ackroyd says there is “a fair bit of infrastructure” in the Cody Caves, including ladders and a gangplank over a waterfall.

“From our point of view, the liabilities with those structures are high, so we would probably close the cave,” he says.

However, they will have to take stronger measures to keep people out, for someone “chopped” and removed the gate at the entrance last fall.

“Maybe someone just wanted to get in. We’re going to have to deal with that as soon as the snow clears,” Ackroyd says.

Neither Stanway nor the Canadian Cave Conservancy could be reached for comment.