By Trent Ernst
Editor, Tumbler Ridge News
Snowmobilers around Tumbler Ridge, located in the east
central part of British Columbia, 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.
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 snowmachines. There are closures,
but those have been in place for years."
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
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
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 snowmachine 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
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
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
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
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."