When Bud Jenkins and his wife were taking a recent cruise down Highway 5, the last thing on their minds was the potential danger of the cottonwood trees along the sides of the road.
That would change, however, when one of the trees came crashing down on their car in Blackpool last month, sending him to the hospital for surgery.
“A whole tree fell on me, it came right across the front of our car and finished it off; it took four hours to get the surgery done on my neck,” said Jenkins.
“We thought nothing of (the dangerous trees). It was windy and we were just driving and it fell right on our car.”
Jenkins’ friend, Bob Mumford, is a former timber faller and has been aware of the situation for a couple of years.
He said he’s tried to bring attention to the danger trees by writing letters to the Clearwater Times, as well as to the B.C. Government, in hopes of shining light on the issue.
“If you take a drive and specifically look for the trees that are leaning across the highway it’s just incredible,” said Mumford.
“You wonder how a lot of them are even standing up, why they haven’t fallen over yet, and the really big cottonwoods, a lot of them have huge limbs hanging right out over the highway above an entire lane.”
Mumford said by working as a timber faller, he became aware of the dangers cottonwoods pose because how quick the specific type of tree is to rot.
The worst stretch of Highway 5 is between Little Fort and Blackpool, but the hazardous cottonwoods can be found all the way to Kamloops, he said.
“It’s an especially extreme hazard area because it’s kind of swampy type ground that the cottonwood really likes to grow in, so all you have to do is take a drive past Little Fort and you can just see it,” said Mumford.
“Most people just drive through and never give it a thought, but I guess having worked as a faller in the bush for so many years I just have this extra sense for this type of thing because what keeps you alive is being aware of the dangers.”
Mumford suggested the province trim the trees back on the land under its jurisdiction, or at the very least, erect warning signs to make motorists aware of the dangers along the highway.
He added if one of the branches, or like in Jenkin’s case an entire tree, were to fall on a tour bus, the results could be extraordinarily disastrous.
“There are just endless scenarios, and I tend not to get overly excited about things where anything can happen at any time, that’s for granted, but this hazard is too obvious,” he said.
“(In Jenkins’ case) if the tree had fallen a second sooner, it would have killed him and his wife both, the speed they were going, it would have come through the windshield and just cleaned house—so that’s my perspective on it.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in an email statement that the ministry does have an annual program to remove danger trees from within its road rights of way, though in some cases the responsibility for managing these trees rests with the landowner.
“The ministry at times may approach landowners with an offer to partner in the removal of hazardous trees,” she said.
“We currently do not have plans to remove trees along this section of Highway 5; however, we will take the recent concerns brought forward into consideration as we continue to prioritize our work throughout the area.”
She added as part of the service agreement with the ministry, maintenance contractors are obligated to carry out sweeping, brushing and clearing activities along provincial roadways and ministry right-of-way areas.
For more information on this process to maintain safe driving conditions, readers can visit: www.tranbc.ca/2018/04/06/our-spring-cleaning-checklist/
If people encounter trees or shrubs that have fallen onto the road, or are encroaching on B.C. roadways, they are encouraged to contact their local maintenance contractor.
For the Kamloops area, people can connect with Argo Road Maintenance at 1-800- 661-2025.