Many people are unaware of the sheer scope and size of the vast Chilliwack Forest District. It stretches north from the US border out to the coast and into the Gulf Islands, to the north end of Harrison Lake and all the way to Manning Park.
This district is large, and so is the mandate to provide high-value recreation sites and trails and to maintain them to the standard that most residents of this area and tourists coming to visit, ask for. This task is largely placed upon one man, Mike Peters, and his assistant technician Marina Dunn. Peters’ job as the Recreation Officer for the Forest District’s office based in Chilliwack, has been his role for many years now. He has worked tirelessly to improve the area and make sure that things don’t fall into total disrepair. However, as one might imagine, after scanning a map of his jurisdiction, there seems not a lot of time for him to hike, bike, ATV, or horseback ride the many trails and areas that fall under his watch, let alone assess their needs. These tasks often fall to each activity’s user groups to be the eyes and ears on the ground.
Some years ago local Search and Rescue Veteran, Jack Bryceland, author of 103 Hikes in Southwest British Columbia (the definitive guidebook for hiking in our area) felt that we had too large a workload falling on the recreation officer. Jack went about pulling together interested parties from all of the recreation groups, motorized and non-motorized alike, to work together on advice to bring to Peters. His philosophy was that all of the groups needed to stop working only for their own needs, and join forces to benefit everybody. The concept for this kind of body was spawned out of a Outdoor Recreation Council of BC workshop in 2010 titled “Working Together: Finding Solutions to Regional & Community Trail Issues” at which Mike Peters was one of the speakers.
Each trail carries a user designation that dictates who can use the trail and who is to maintain it. Motorized access is often not allowed on certain trails, just as mountain bikes are not allowed on certain hike-only trails. These designations however are often under contest as different groups vie to use the same terrain. Difference of opinion and conflict can ensue. You can imagine the challenge for a Recreation Officer as each user group comes to his office lobbying for their own needs for a certain trail, only to be followed by a different user-group wishing to use the same trail for their own needs.
The group that Bryceland brought together aimed to alleviate all of this, striving to reconcile their differences and negotiate the designations of certain trails so that each group would have their own terrain to use that would not be in conflict with anyone else’s. This roundtable discussion brainchild of Jack’s has transformed in the last number of years from coffee shop discussions with a small group of men and women, to its current status as the Chilliwack Recreation Advisory Group. CRAG meets monthly in the boardroom at the Chilliwack Forest District office with Mike Peters, and effectively represents nearly every single sport group in our backcountry that has an organization to represent it.
Sitting at the table are dual sport and motocross advocates, quads and ATV’s, horsemen, hikers and mountaineers. Sometimes cavers and paragliders attend, and mountain bikers are there as well. The group is as eclectic in personality as their modes of backcountry travel. Every group that wishes to use our backcountry, and wants to help make it a better place, comes every month, as this group is where decisions get made, where funding gets allocated, and where the users can have their input heard.
Peters and Dunn are still faced with an impossible mandate – how to use their few resources wisely, and how to keep everybody happy at the same time. This truly is a daunting task, however Mike and Marina do it as well as anyone possibly could and with the help of CRAG, the Chilliwack Forest District has seen a surge in new trails and recreation sites and better relationships amongst all of the groups. The Chilliwack Recreation Advisory Group is unique and is now the envy of many other Forest Recreation Officers in British Columbia.
Mike is able to tap into a resource base greater than anyone else in his department, as he can talk to men and women who represent tens of thousands of people out on every single one of the trails that we love every week of every year. It is from our mouths that Peters hears about road washouts, about vandalized campsites, and about trails that we all dream could exist.
The CRAG group is not only beneficial to Mike and his mandate; it is also beneficial to every person that sits around the table and the organizations that they represent. The members have come to see that many problems faced as hikers or ATV riders are the same, and the best way to move forward is as a consolidated group, willing to compromise and collaborate. Residents of Chilliwack are lucky to have an organization such as the Chilliwack Recreation Advisory Group representing their backcountry recreation interests.
We are all trying to strive for the same things. We want better access to the places that we love and we all want our passion and our pursuit to be supported and to be passed on to other people so that they too can enjoy what we have come to love. If you have asked yourself what would I get out of joining a hiking, biking or ATV club? Think of what your voice, added to tens of thousands of other voices in the province, can do when advocating for the trails and recreation sites that you wish to use.
I encourage you to get involved, because when you put your funding into an organization and you pay your club dues, you are paying for the tools that are maintaining your trails and a membership in an advocacy that speaks directly to those who manage our public lands. We truly can make a difference in the things that we deem important.
“ If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have never been to bed with a mosquito.” – Anonymous –
“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”
– Dr. Denis Waitley
Sam Waddington – Owner of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors: Equipping you for Rock, Water, Snow, Sand, Wind and anything else the Outdoors can throw at you!