Blue River Powder Packers blocked from accessing popular riding areas

Alberta Venor, president of the Blue River Powder Packers Society. File photo

A recent logging operation that sprung up with little notice near Blue River has turned into a thorn in the side of a local snowmobiling tourism group.

While the Blue River Powder Packer Society (BRPPS) members said they understand logging takes priority on Finn Creek Forest Service Road, which is the access point for its two major riding areas of Salmon River and Groundhog, the lack of a heads-up is putting a dent in its industry’s revenues and Blue River’s local economy as a whole.

“Two weeks ago we were told that as early as Feb. 17 they’d need to plow the road down to dirt and start logging. The frustrating thing for us is we have staff we’ve hired for the season, we have a parking lot there and it’s really hard for us as a non-profit society to try to scramble at the last minute and find another access,” said Albert Venor, BRPPS president.

“What we’re looking for longterm is one: more notice when these kinds of things are going to happen so we can plan our business accordingly, and two: is if we can have the government help us out with some funding as far as making our own permanent access trail that won’t be interrupted by intermittent logging.”

Venor added while the situation may not sound like a big deal to some, for the people of Blue River snowmobile tourism is one of the biggest economic drivers.

Hotels, restaurants, Airbnbs, as well as staff directly employed by the BRPPS, are taking a hit and some people view it as losing their jobs, he said. Roughly 70 per cent of the group’s ridership uses those areas and when similar situations have happened in the past hotels have seen up to half their bookings dry up.

“(Our) economic activity is being diminished so that six loggers from Barriere (who work for Integrated Fibre Ltd.) can be employed for a month and a half, hence the conflict,” he said.

“We don’t want to paint them with a bad brush because we know that logging has had a really tough go here, and any employment is good employment in that industry, but we think there can be complementary uses of the same asset and we just think there should be some better planning going forward.”

Other remedies to the situation could be a widening of the existing road for duel purpose, or a different trail altogether, as well as some stipulations for the logging licensees to give the powder packers advanced warning, instead of such short notice when the group has already commenced its season, Venor said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) said via email that in past years, local licensees and the snowmobile club have been able to successfully coordinate their activities, but noted the current downturn in the forest sector has led to significant economic impacts to forestry contractors, and the licensee is not able to delay harvesting activities in this case.

“The Ministry of FLNRORD, including Recreation Sites and Trails, and the Regional District are working closely with the Blue River Powder Packers and the forest licensee to try to find a short-term solution, which minimizes impacts on tourism values in the area, and supports ongoing forestry activities,” the spokesperson said.

“The licensee is willing to provide alternate snowmobile access for the remaining duration of the season.”

The ministry added over the longer term, it’s working to find a solution to align and increase certainty for forestry and recreation activities, in a way that provides maximum benefit to local communities

This will include bringing all parties together on a regular basis to ensure good communication and coordination.

Andy Boughton, general manager of the BRPPS, agreed the ministry has been working with his group on finding a short-term solution, but a perfect solution wasn’t found this season.

“We are in the process of making changes to the route in an attempt to maintain access, but it is not an ideal solution, and the licensee did agree to assist with an aspect of this but is not providing entire alternate access,” said Boughton.

“I do appreciate FLNRO’s attempts to negotiate a solution between our community and the licensee (but) it’s my understanding that the B.C. government is trying to grow both rural communities and tourism in B.C. How such a small block of timber could take precedence over a truly significant and growing tourism industry, in rural B.C. no less, simply doesn’t make sense.”

Boughton added this is the second time this season the BRPPS has been “grossly” affected by logging with little or no notice and the lack of organization makes it difficult for them to plan and build their season for the benefit of their ridership, community and B.C.

Because of logging issues in December with a different company, the powder packers lost more than 1,000 riders, he said, adding the group’s average number of riders for all its riding zones is 8,000 riders, so a loss of 1,000 is significant.

“If the logging goes forward as proposed, I think we can safely estimate a 50 per cent reduction in ridership and revenue. Groundhog and Salmon are our flagship zones — people travel from all around Western Canada to ride these areas,” said Broughton.

“If they’re not able to access them they will simply cancel their trips. Of course, this affects us as well as local businesses that depend on those tourism dollars.”

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