By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

Anybody driving up Toby Creek Road to Panorama in the past few weeks is sure to have noticed that considerable upgrades to the parking lot at the Lake Lillian recreation site are underway. The same thing is also happening at the parking lot at the Mount Swansea recreation site on the east side of the Columbia Valley.

The work began in mid-March and, if all goes to plan, will wrap up before the summer tourist season begins in earnest.

Recreations Sites and Trails B.C. Rocky Mountain North District recreation officer Trevor Hann told the Pioneer that improving the parking lot at Lake Lillian has been on his to-do list since he started in his job back in June 2019.

“It’s a very well-known local recreation site, and use of the recreation site is extremely high,” he said. “The current parking lot, the way it is set up, is clearly unsafe. Something needed to happen to accommodate the growing use there. There’s a similar situation at Swansea, in that the existing parking lot needed improvement.”

The Lake Lillian recreation site includes sections of the southeastern shore of Lake Lillian (with a small grassy beach, a dock and a boat launch, picnic tables, outhouses) as well as the Lake Lillian trail network on the other side of Toby Creek Road.

“Part of the safety issue with the old parking lot is that people wanting to use the trails for biking or walking had no choice but to park by the lake and then walk across Toby Creek Road. But Toby Creek Road is very busy, traffic is moving quickly and is coming around a corner,” said Hann. 

To make things safer, the existing park lot by Lake Lillian, is being altered so that there is only one entrance and exit point (rather than the two that currently exist), with a better paved ‘apron’ to get on and off Toby Creek Road, and another parking lot is being added on the opposite side of the road (where the trails are). The work at Lake Lillian will end up cost about $40,000 in total, and the upgrades at Mount Swansea will cost $75,000.

In January 2021, Hann met with the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), who committed to help with paving the ‘apron’ and other road work.  A consultation process with local First Nations followed thereafter, and eventually interpretive signage highlighting the significance of the area to First Nations will be installed at the sites. Hann also met several times with representatives of the Toby Benches Society, who highlighted their concerns about what they see as over-use of the Lake Lillian site. 

The Toby Benches Society proposed an alternate location for the new trailhead parking lot, suggesting a spot 200 metres further away, off the road.

Hann explained that he reviewed this alternate spot “but it became apparent the existing location made more sense for a number of reasons.”

One of the most problematic aspects of the proposed alternate location for the parking lot is that it is not visible from Toby Creek Road, which Hann outlined increases the potential risk for vandalism, and for illegal overnight camping, and consequently for wildfire stemming from unattended campfire or bonfires.

“If things are within eyeshot (of the road), there’s going to be a lot less illegal bonfires, pallet fires, and campfires. That significantly reduces the risk of wildfires,” said Hann.

Local elected officials, including Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok, Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Area F Director Susan Clovechok and RDEK Area G Director Gerry Wilkie met with Hann for a site visit at Lake Lillian in late March. “I then received an email from Doug indicating support for the option we’ve chosen,” said Hann.

Clovechok told the Pioneer he had been sent several photos of people parking along Toby Creek Road on busy days when the parking lot at Lake Lillian was already full.

“It was like a Costco parking lot. It’s very, very dangerous from a public safety perspective,” said Clovechok. He added Hann’s decision “seems pretty logical, and well-thought out.  I think the decisions taken are appropriate and in line with what needs to be done. I realize there are some residents who are unhappy about it, but we do have to make it safe.”

Work on the parking lot upgrades began on March 8, and tree felling began on March 14, with Shuswap Woodland Restoration Ltd. and B.C. wildfire crews contributing to the effort. The logs will go to the members of the local Shuswap Indian Band and the Akisqnuk First Nation.

Hann emphasized that the existing parking lot at Lake Lillian is not being increased in capacity (as it may appear to those driving past), but is simply being upgraded. “It is being made safer. Part of that is making sure there are two lanes of space below the parked cars, for people to be able to drive both in and out of the parking lot at the same time. So there’s extra space for that. But the intent is not to create more space for vehicles at the lake parking lot,” he said.

Obviously however, that is the intent, at the new trailside parking lot, which should be able to accommodate up to 50 vehicles.

Is that enough for every resident and visitor to be able to park at Lake Lillian on a busy summer day?

“For the vast majority of the year, that should be more than adequate. But definitely there will be some days in summer where it will be nowhere near adequate. 

We have to keep in mind that the goal of this project was to make things safer, not to accommodate everybody up and down the valley who wants to recreate at Lake Lillian at the same time,” said Hann. 

“It really comes down to the time of day and time of year. There will never be enough parking for everybody. It’s a very busy recreation site. So we have to strike a balance, and we do ask that if you head to Lake Lillian and the parking lot is full, that you do the responsible thing and choose to recreate somewhere else, instead of trying to park along the road. Parking along the road, at that site, is extremely dangerous.” 

Given the increasing use at Lake Lillian, Hann explained that he is also very keen to put in modern, more ecologically responsible toilets at the site.

“I’d like to do it as soon as we can secure the funding,” said Hann, adding each of the toilets will cost about $15,000 to replace. There are two toilets there, making a total cost of $30,000.

Just how much has use increased at Lake Lillian?

While there are no numbers for visitor to the lakeshore at Lake Lillian, the Columbia Valley Cycling Society put up a trailer counter on the Junior Johnson trail at Lake Lillian, which showed multiple days in the springs and summer with more than 100 trail users, and on the Mount Swansea trails, which showed even more trail use there — including one day with more than 300 trail users. 

Hann thanked the Swansea Road user group, which includes the Columbia Valley Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, the Columbia Valley Cycling Society and the Summit Trail Makers Society, as well as the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce, for their involvement in the Mount Swansea parking lot upgrades. 

He also mentioned that anybody who spots illegal overnight camping at Lake Lillian or Mount Swansea can report it on the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1 887 952 7277.