The results of a recent investigation by the Ministry of Forests into trail-building practices at the Dakota Ridge Winter Recreation Area found the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) didn't violate forest standards, but could have done some things better.
Robert Corlett, a longtime Coast resident and vice president of the Sechelt Community Forest board, made a formal complaint to the Ministry of Forests after being told by the Forest Practices Board that the recreation area was not within their jurisdiction. After hearing the results of the investigation, Corlett said it's proof that the SCRD has fallen between the cracks in forest jurisdiction.
"It appears [the SCRD] are not being held to the same level of accountability by the Ministry of Forests as forestry operators are," he said.
Corlett and others say the trail work and construction around lot C at Dakota Ridge caused the kind of sediment runoff that wouldn't be allowed under the Forest Practices Act. They say the runoff resulted from sub-standard work carried out during the fall, when the ground is muddy and prone to erosion. SCRD parks planning co-ordinator Sam Adams said while Sunshine Coast Forest District compliance and enforcement technician Reynold Schmidt raised some concerns with sediment running off the trails, there was no actual violation.
"We are in compliance with forestry regulations, and the reality is that these are unsubstantiated allegations," he said. "Wherever there's activity, human or otherwise, there's a footprint, and there's always room for improvement."
The SCRD is familiar with Corlett, as he attended all the local board of health hearings held over the summer concerning logging in the Chapman Creek watershed.
"If someone's taking a shot at the SCRD, we want to know if there's anything to it," said Barry Janyk, the Town of Gibsons director for the SCRD.
Corlett said he simply wants to see "a level playing field between the regional district and the forest industry" and has made a freedom of information request to obtain the report written by Schmidt.
"I will continue to pursue this until I find out who takes responsibility for the SCRD's work up there," he said, adding his findings so far show the jurisdiction could belong to the Ministry of Tourism, Sports and the Arts. "The district should be embarrassed for what they've done," Corlett said.
The SCRD is still seeking a maintenance permit from the Ministry of Forests that would allow them to complete brushing and road widening on the upper section of Dakota Ridge Road. Adams expects this will happen next year, allowing the SCRD to improve the 2.6 kilometre stretch of road between lots B and C in summer 2008.
While a Western Forest Products (WFP) grader has been keeping the lower part of the road clear, the SCRD has now secured a plow operator, Jaydan Excavating, to keep the road snow-free up to parking lot B. With WFP soon expected to wrap up their operations for the season, the plow contractor should begin working by the second week in December, said Adams. Getting people up the final stretch to parking lot C, where the base area and warming hut are found, is still a challenge, one that only a four-by-four vehicle with chains and a good driver can overcome.
To help people find that kind of ride, local website Suncoast Central (www.suncoastcentral.com) has set up a rideshare page for Dakota Ridge, after suggestions from the outdoors crowd who use the site to read and post snow reports. Local outdoors store Alpha Adventures will also be running a snowcat with seats for 12 passengers on a trial basis this winter. On Dec. 15, 27-30, Jan. 12, 26 and Feb. 17, the snowcat will take people to and from lot C, for $3 each way. Grooming is set to begin soon, and it's expected the trails in the 620-hectare recreation area will be groomed more often than they were last season. The SCRD's $190,000 Piston Bulley groomer will be driven up to the now-complete storage shed as soon as there's sufficient snow, and will be stored there all winter, Adams said -an improvement from last winter, when it was stored at an SCRD works yard and driven up each time grooming was needed.