Viewpoint: Burgoyne multi-use trails needed

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By PATRICIA LOCKIE

More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition in support of multi-use trails in Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park (Xwaaqw’um).  

Based on the number of posted comments, the petition seems to have hit a nerve for many people. The park’s current management clearly is of deep concern to the Salt Spring community and beyond. 

Recent remediation work within the park has changed the trail network, especially two of the multi-use trails. With no prior public consultation with user groups, BC Parks has decommissioned portions of one trail and blocked access in other areas. A popular, closed-loop circuit has disappeared. No one disputes the need for repair work, addressing trespass issues with the park’s neighbours and controlling watercourses, but why must those management tasks preclude the preservation or replacement of existing multi-use trails?

Burgoyne Bay occupies a special place in the hearts of both local First Nations people and the settler community who 22 years ago campaigned hard, and successfully, to protect these unique lands from industrial-scale logging by the Texada Land Corporation. The Cowichan Tribes have a spiritual and historical connection to Burgoyne Bay. It is they who spearheaded the work of wetlands restoration in the park. Many of those who signed the trails petition applauded that initiative, and others acknowledged the special relationship between Indigenous people and Burgoyne Bay lands.

Two issues, in particular, trouble those who signed the petition. One is the real threat of losing trails that hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, birders and dog walkers can share, just as they have since the park’s inception in 2004. 

Nadia Bizzotto commented: “I’m signing (the petition) because I use this park five days a week. It is truly the only expansive multi-use park in the south end of Salt Spring. This park is essential to us and its use should remain diverse.”

The second issue is the seeming intransigence on the part of BC Parks’ management, which has demonstrated an unwillingness to accept alternatives for the lost trails. Recommendations for different trail routings and problem-solving solutions have so far been ignored. This dismissiveness is, at best, an insensitive approach to a community that fundraised more than a million dollars to help purchase the lands which became Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park (Xwaaqw’um).

Lloyd English wrote, after signing the petition: ”Community consultation should have been integrated into this process. We already have far too much governance from bureaucrats that don’t live here. Please allow us some part in deciding what is right for the island. After all, we live here.”

In response to those who submitted letters expressing concerns about changes in Burgoyne, BC Parks’ south Gulf Islands area supervisor Sarah Joanisse wrote: ”It is unfortunate that we were not able to maintain some of the multi-use trails that you used to frequent.” Joanisse also made it clear there were no alternative solutions: “While we engaged Salt Spring Island Trail and Nature Club to look at reroute options for an in-park loop trail, we found no suitable location.” Several long-time park users have disputed this conclusion.

The park’s management plan outlines an array of recreational opportunities in Burgoyne. Key user groups are identified and their activities promoted. For example, there are no fewer than 25 mentions of horses and horseback riding. This is one activity that will be curtailed by the changes to the trail network since horseback riding is limited to designated multi-use trails. Surely, then, BC Parks should be held accountable for living up to the provisions of its management plan, including maintenance of multi-use trails. If it doesn’t intend to do that, then we need to hear why. 

People can sign the petition at www.change.org/BBSupporters.

The writer was part of a Friends of Salt Spring Parks group that produced the first background report for the Burgoyne Bay protected area (2003). She is also a Salt Spring Trail Riders member, and VP of the Gulf Islands Horse Association.

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