The fiasco over access to the Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River which appeared on the verge of resolution just a few weeks ago is still not settled, although the rapidly rising river, swollen with spring runoff, temporarily cooled any controversy and prevented what otherwise would have been a bitterly disappointing Victoria Day long weekend for rafting companies.
The reprieve was momentary, however, and the disagreement is set to reach fever pitch in a few day at a potentially massive protest rally.
The issue flared to national and provincial attention earlier this spring, with ripples extending down here to the Upper Columbia Valley, when rafting companies using the Kicking Horse River near Golden (including Radium Hot Springs-based Kootenay River Runners) where told by Canadian Pacific Railway they would not longer be able to access the rivers famed Lower Canyon by simply walking across the Canadian Pacific tracks to the put-in something that rafting companies had been doing for decades, but which Canadian Pacific pointed out was trespassing and a liability issue.
The companies, the business community in Golden and the paddling community throughout the Kootenay region, as well as various municipal, regional, provincial and federal politicians estimated a massive economic fallout for Golden from the move and campaigned vigorously, pressing the rail company to come to some kind of agreement allowing rafting this summer.
These efforts had seemingly paid off when rafting companies were assured on April 22nd that they would be able to use the Lower Canyon starting on the Victoria Day long weekend (the usual beginning of rafting season), but to their surprise they found access barred by a locked gate, put up by Canadian Pacific, just prior to the long weekend.
A pitched battle over the lack of access was averted for a few weeks when the river in the Lower Canyon reached high levels more quickly than normal, making it unsafe for rafters during the long weekend and the following weekend. But when the river then dropped, the gate stayed up and heat on ever-bubbling issue ratcheted back up to a full boil again.
The gate remained locked, but in the end it didn’t matter for the long weekend since the river rose to point that it simply wasn’t safe to run, Tourism Golden executive director Joanne Sweeting told the Pioneer on Tuesday, May 31st. She confirmed a week later, on Tuesday, June 6th, that the access for the rafting companies was still barred and that those supporting the rafting companies were planning a community-wide protest rally for Monday, June 6th.
Affected rafting operators also confirmed that the gate is still shut tight, but none knew when the issue might be resolved.
They’ve (Canadian Pacific) put a gate up on the hill into the Lower Canyon, on their property. Basically you can pull off the (Trans Canada) Highway in your vehicle but you can’t get much farther than that, Kootenay River Runners owner Ian Scheler told the Pioneer on Tuesday, May 31st. I don’t know what’s happening. We (the rafting companies) are in the dark.
Mr. Scheler said that the rail company was not dealing directly with the rafting companies, but instead had made an agreement with the provincial government, and then the provincial government had made an agreement with the rafting companies.
From what I understand the talks between the provincial government and Canadian Pacific broke down and it’s not looking good, he said, adding Kootenay River Runners does not typically star running the Lower Canyon until early June (later than most of the other rafting companies) but that he would be completely blown away if he was able to start running that part of the river when he normally does.
On the positive side Mr. Scheler pointed out that the Upper Canyon of the Kicking Horse River, which is still accessible, is good all summer, but extremely so through all of June and into early July.
Golden-based Glacier Rafting Company owner Ryan Johanessen said, on Tuesday, May 31st, that the high water level that made the river unrunnable the previous two weekend had lowered.
It’s dropped now, boats could be down there. But the gate is still up and still locked, said Mr. Johanessen. It’s becoming more of an issue for us now. We’re still proceeding as if the agreement (to allow access) will be finalized.
Mr. Johanessen said that as far as he knows both side (the provincial government and Canadian Pacific) ares still meeting and negotiations are ongoing.
We’re hopeful that a deal can be reached in the next week or so. It’s a little bit of a tough situation, but we’re still optimistic. Fingers crossed, he said. It hasn’t been a big issue, since May is not usually the busiest time for us, but if it (the gate) stays closed, it’s going to have an effect. We need to know if we are going to lose access sooner rather than later, so that we can make adjustments, offer clients who have already book trips with the option to re-book or cancel trips, and to figure out how our marketing strategy.
Unfortunately there not a lot to update, said Golden mayor Ron Oszust. The rafting companies were not able to access the Lower Canyon as was agreed to by Canadian Pacific at the (April 22nd) meeting in Golden, and at the moment both sides are continuing negotiations on an agreement. Everybody is hopeful that they come to terms agreeable to both parties in the next couple of days so rafting can begin soon. It’s been a trying situation for the whole community.
As of press time, on Wednesday, June 10th, no agreement had been reached and the protest rally was slated to go ahead on Monday, June 13th at 6 p.m. in the gravel parking lot across from the 7-11 in Golden.