A road into one of the area's most scenic backcountry destinations has been blocked to licensed vehicles.
The Dore West Road near McBride takes recreationists and tourists to the Ozalenka Trail, which gives people an 1,800-foot vertical gain up seven kilometres of groomed wilderness trail alongside its namesake creek, finishing at the popular Ozalenka Hut, a well-maintained cabin for overnight hikers. It is maintained by the Ozalenka Alpine Club. It is a year-round attraction, said club vice-president Glen Stanley.
He said the terrain was ideal for hikers, skiers, snowshoers but less desirable for snowmobilers and quad riders, making it a key recreation niche. Now, ironically, those machines are the only things that can get past the barriers across the road at the seven-kilometre mark where the main Dore Creek Road splits. The last 12 kilometres to the Ozalenka trailhead are now off limits to conventional vehicles.
The Dore West Road was unfortunately a line straight into legal liability, according to its overseer, Carrier Lumber of Prince George. They are, however, in negotiations with the provincial government to reopen it under a different liability model, but the threat of a lawsuit was too great and too real to put a legal target on their back, said company spokesman Terry Kuzma.
The contentious place is not a provincial forest service road but a company-operated access road built for logging activities. Carrier Lumber did not build and Carrier has no need for it for their current purposes. It therefore must be closed according to liability protocols all resource companies follow across the province.
It isn't just a theoretical threat, said Kuzma.
Carrier Lumber tried, against typical practices, to leave one such road open (also in the Robson Valley) with a sign telling all users they were at their own risk if they ventured onto it. Someone did, allegedly had a mishap, and is now suing Carrier Lumber despite the sign.
The case has not been concluded in court.
"This particular road into Ozalenka has issues of safety on it," Kuzma said. "Because of last winter's heavy snowfall and the spring rains, there were some landslides. Although the road is now passable, we could not be comfortable, legally or in good conscience, about people using vehicles on that road especially in those sections."
Carrier Lumber put cement blockades across the road, but unknown members of the public pulled them clear. The mill company then had to truck in a hoe to dig a trench supplementing the cement barriers.
"We're not asking for anything from Carrier, we can look after the road ourselves," said Stanley. "We hope they'll hold off doing any more decommissioning work until Victoria has a chance to look into it. We're pretty much dependent on tourism in this valley, and this is the best we have, and we're getting it taken away from us. You do your best to make this the best place you possibly can, and then somebody from away comes along and destroys it."
Within the last year, BC Parks invested $25,000 in the Ozalekna Trail, with hundreds of thousands of more dollars donated in private equipment time, trail-building materials and volunteer labour. The road and trail are in the best condition they've ever been, said Stanley.
Logging, mining and petroleum companies have had to decommission such roads for many years, all over the province. It is such a prevalent issue for backcountry recreationists that new legislation is being crafted to help take that legal threat off the backs of the companies investing in that industrial activity. Interim laws have already come into force, but the full Natural Resource Road Act is not yet ready.
"This is an issue that I am aware of and have been working on and in fact it was one of the issues that was raised at the Union of BC Municipalities meetings last week," said Shirley Bond, MLA for the Ozalenka area. "I attended a meeting with the McBride Village Council, Regional District representatives - including Ken Starchuck, who is responsible for that area - and [Forests] Minister Steve Thomson. There was a very constructive conversation about the need to ensure that access and recreational use of roads is maximized in the Robson Valley particularly as we look to diversify the economy and enhance tourism opportunities. We were assured that district staff have been in ongoing conversations and looking at any possible options for the West Dore road."
If a blanket provincial liability insurance can be applied to the road, or if a user group like the Ozalenka Alpine Club could take on the insurance costs associated with legal liability, Carrier Lumber's view was that the road could be reopened soon after.