Clearwater River.

Need recognized for a Clearwater River bridge

Climate change impact on Wells Gray Park factor in bridge request

The Wells Gray Park master plan needs a significant overhaul as part of developing a tourism strategy specific to B.C. parks.

That new master plan should include consideration of a bridge over the Clearwater River.

Those seemed to be the main outcomes of a special discussion held by Clearwater town council on Oct. 17.

Coun. Merlin Blackwell, who also operates the campgrounds in Wells Gray under contract, said that he had previously been opposed to a bridge across the Clearwater. Not any more.

“The big change is climate change,” Blackwell said. “Nothing is the same as it was. The glaciers are going away, the summers are getting hotter, and the weather is less predictable. Nothing is the same two years in a row.”

A map recently published in The Times showed sagebrush growing north of Clearwater Lake by 2080, he said.

That means there is a high-risk situation in Wells Gray Park due to climate change, Blackwell felt.

In her report to council, chief administrative officer Leslie Groulx pointed out that Wells Gray Park was fully closed for 16 days last summer due to the wildfire situation, and partially closed for much of the rest of the season.

The main reason for the closures was because there is only one access in and out. With approximately 3,000 visitors a day during the high season, a fire that blocked the single access road could have been catastrophic.

She said creating a secondary access would provide two positive spin-offs—create a safer area to recreate and visit, and add to the opportunities for site-seeing and touring.

Groulx also pointed out that the existing master plan for Wells Gray Park mentions a bridge across the Clearwater to provide the opportunity for a circle trip—past the Flourmill Volcano and alpine access to the north, then westward to 100 Mile House and the Cariboo.

The existing master plan for the park was written in 1986, Groulx reported.

Coun. Shelley Sim suggested that the municipality make it clear to the provincial government that what is being sought is not a new document but funding.

“It’s not a strategy but an investment we’re asking for,” she said. “They have got to understand that B.C. Parks is seriously underfunded.”

Ken Kjenstad suggested the discussions include the forests ministry and the highways ministry, not just the environment and tourism ministries.

Updating the Wells Gray Park master plan was a good idea, he felt, but would take six or eight years to accomplish.

In the meantime, the park needs more rangers, better road maintenance and improved trail-work.

Only a few years ago, there were three park rangers working year-round in the park and living locally. Today, there is only one ranger responsible for the park, and that person is based out of Kamloops.

Mayor John Harwood said the District of Clearwater should arrange meetings with the relevant provincial government ministers in order to discuss the issues.

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