Longtime local resident John Downey had a clear message for MLA Peter Milobar during a meet-and-greet held at Dutch Lake Community Centre on Friday afternoon, April 6.
Last summer’s wildfire situation showed the need for a second road from the Cariboo into Wells Gray Park, he said.
“It’s not that far,” Downey told the Kamloops-North Thompson MLA. “If you stand on Green Mountain you can easily see Mahood Lake.”
There is, at present, only one road in and out of the park. If a forest fire should cut that road, then it would be difficult to evacuate the hundreds of people visiting Helmcken Falls or camping at Clearwater Lake on a typical summer’s day.
In part because of the access situation, during much of last summer’s wildfire season, Wells Gray Park was either closed or had extremely limited access, with devastating consequences for many area businesses.
To provide an alternative exit, a second road would need to cross the Clearwater River somewhere upstream from the Helmcken Falls Canyon, Downey felt. It then would proceed west to Mahood Lake and on to the Cariboo.
Much of the route is already crossed by logging roads, he pointed out.
With jobs in the forest industry in slow decline, Wells Gray Park is the only asset the North Thompson Valley has that is increasing, he said.
Keeping local control is important. Downey said he had visited Fraser Island in Australia. It had been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a major hotel chain had moved in and the chain now controls nearly everything on the island, he said.
“It would need to be a locally driven process,” commented Milobar. “If you’re talking about a second road into Wells Gray Park, then half the people would be happy and the other half unhappy.”
He recalled that, during the wildfires of 2003, there had been an attempt to send buses to evacuate Sun Peaks by way of a logging road. It had not ended well, the MLA said.
The Kamloops-North Thompson representative said he has been in discussions with the Minister regarding maintenance and improvements to the park road.
He felt there should be more longterm planning for Wells Gray Park.
“We need to look at Clearwater as if it were Banff or Jasper – as if it were in Wells Gray Park, even though it is not,” Milobar said.
He said that when looking at the economics of Wells Gray Park it is necessary to include the dollars spent in Clearwater and not just in the park itself.
Locating hotels and other services in Clearwater would make it easier to keep large portions of the park as wilderness, the MLA felt.
Dunn Lake Road is a concern
Downey was just one of several local residents who met with Milobar during the meet-and-greet.
Another was Bill Ludtke, the East Blackpool representative on the Wells Gray Country services committee.
There are three main issues for East Blackpool residents, Ludtke said. Those are the road, the road and the road.
Inadequate road maintenance is having a negative impact on tourist businesses in the locality, he felt.
Milobar said he would check with the Ministry and see what the plans are.