By Steve Hubrecht

Earlier this winter the Columbia Valley Recreation Planning Initiative (CVRPI) sought public input — in the form of survey — in helping develop a recreation strategy for Steamboat Mountain. The results of the survey are now in  — in large numbers — and they show a desire for designated trails among respondents, but also an understanding that those trails must not interfere with ecological values or traditional uses.

The CVRPI had launched the survey on recreation use, issues, impacts, stewardship and management in the Steamboat Mountain area on Jan. 27 and it ran until Feb. 16. Through that time, a total of 1,002 people answered in the survey.

“Even the consultant shook his head and couldn’t believe it (how many responses there were),” said Radium Mayor and CVRPI Steamboat initiative co-chair Clara Reinhardt at the Wednesday, Mar. 9 Radium council meeting. “That was pretty significant.”

Reinhard told council that there seems to be almost unanimous agreement that designated trails for different user groups are needed, almost unanimous agreement on the need for official recreation sites (for camping, with signage and bathrooms) and almost unanimous agreement that these trails need to avoid important wildlife corridors and sensitive habitats.

“When we started this, one of our mantras was that ‘there has to be a place for everybody’, and ‘we need to protect key wildlife corridors and key habitats’. Outside of that we need to be inclusive: the dirt bikers need space, the quad riders need space, the mountain bikers need space, and the campers need space,” Reinhardt later told the Pioneer, expanding on her comments at the meeting. “The results of the survey clear show that the public is on the same page.”

Reinhardt added that while the results are near unanimous, they are not completely unanimous.

Congratulations! You’ve found 2/2 easter eggs for our online hunt! (Mar. 17 edition). Graphic design by Emily Rawbon

“There is a small group, but a group nonetheless, of people that feel the Steamboat Mountain area should remain unmanaged, without a plan. When we broke down the survey results based on where they were coming from, we found that most people that want Steamboat to remain completely unmanaged are from outside the valley,” she said.

Reinhardt added that the document that eventually comes out of the Steamboat initiative will not be an official regulation or legislation, but rather a guiding document that B.C. Recreation Sites and Trails (which operates under the umbrella of the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations — FLNRO) will use in its planning.

She theorized the huge response to the survey may have come because of “Steamboat’s proximity (to Radium). It’s so accessible.”

“For a survey of this type and style, to get 1,002 surveys back is an excellent response,” CVRPI Steamboat initiative co-chair Adrian Pery told the Pioneer. “Yes, there are clear preferences, and it seems people understand the pressure recreation is putting on the valley, and the need there is to preserve what we have…People seem to understand that we can’t go on doing nothing in terms of management, and that we can’t keep on going willy nilly into wild areas without regard for the impacts that may have.”

Pery underscored the need to consider both ecological values and cultural values, such as traditional First Nations and Metis use, as well as to consider the rights of existing tenure holders in the area (such as ranchers).

“I’m impressed by the response we had, impressed by people’s understanding of the need to balance the benefits of recreation with other values,” said Pery.

More public consultation on Steamboat will happen in the near future, likely in April or May, and the CVRPI will complete its final report some time in July.

The Steamboat Mountain area begins just northwest of Radium Hot Springs, and then stretches up north of Edgewater, with the eponymous Steamboat Mountain sitting smack in the middle of the area (and giving it its name). It includes six public recreation sites (with a total of 15 campsites), as well as many informal campsites (especially near Radium), the designated Forster Creek Trail winter recreation trail (managed by the Windermere Valley Snowmobile Society), some 17 kilometres of unauthorized non-motorized trails (often used by mountain bikers), 81 kilometres of unauthorized single-track motorized trails used by dirt bikers, and five kilometres of double-track trails used by ATVs. A total of 84 per cent of the Steamboat area (28,000 hectares) is classified as an ungulate winter range, used during the winter by local ungulate species such as elk, deer, and moose. The world famous Columbia River Wetlands run through the Steamboat area, and there are also five species at risk with important habitat in the area.