Trailhead to popular North Shore mountains closed over wildfire fears

But Lions Bay fire chief say reducing hikers doesn’t reduce fire risk.

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Hikers hoping to climb the North Shore’s highest peaks this weekend will have to find another place to roam after the Lions Bay council voted to close the trailhead due to fire risk.

The parking area at the trailhead to Brunswick Mountain, Tunnel Bluffs, the West Lion and Mount Harvey was behind pylons Saturday, blocking access to the Crown forest above the village. Under the watchful gaze of a bylaw officer, a Postmedia photographer struggled to find a place to park and take a photo.

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“This isn’t good public policy,” said resident Ehsan Monfared. “I think we should be welcoming our neighbours.”

The small village has long had a parking problem, leading some to question the reasoning behind council’s decision.

“They never consulted experts when they closed it, and when they did consult them, they didn’t listen,” said Monfared.

lions bay
Lions Bay resident Ehsan Monfared at the closed parking lot for Brunswick Mountain, Tunnel Bluffs, the West Lion and Mount Harvey at the end of Sunset Drive in Lions Bay on Saturday. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

At a special meeting Thursday, several days after the closure first took effect, village fire chief Barrett Germscheid told council the area was not under “extreme fire risk,” which occurs when temperatures are above 30 C and humidity is below 30 per cent.

“Keep everybody out … lock everything down, of course, no fires are going to start other than lightning strikes,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s a feasible direction to go.”

The fire chief said the number of hikers has increased “astronomically,” but hikers report more fires than they start, he said. “They are a benefit when it comes to firefighting.”

The city’s public works manager said he didn’t see a correlation between reduced hiker numbers and reduced wildfire risk.

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The village’s emergency coordinator said closing the trails was the right decision, but the lack of clear criteria could lead to criticism.

“Making a decision to close the trails needs to … not be political, it needs to be operational. And it needs to be based on set parameters,” said Phil Folkersen.

“Politically speaking it’s not going to be popular to be closed over the long weekend when there’s rain and cooler temperatures (forecast).”

Across B.C., several trails, parks and campsites in both provincial parks and on Crown land are closed due to active wildfires or damage from fires, but few — if any — due to risk of ignition.

All Metro Vancouver parks remain open, as well as parks on the North Shore where the fire danger is high.

On Saturday, a lightning-caused fire broke out near Lighthall Creek north of Coquitlam.

In the Fraser Valley, Mission has closed its municipal forest by order of the fire chief. The closure includes several hiking trails and forest service roads heavily used by all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes. Vehicles travelling to designated and reserved campsites are permitted.

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The Lions Bay council decided the unique circumstances facing the village in the Sea to Sky corridor warranted the closure, citing several small wildfires that ignited on the North Shore this summer, as well as concerns about the village water supply.

Appearing by video in her backyard at the top of the village, one resident said there is only one road leading from her home, while the driest months in Lions Bay are August and September.

“September we’re eking out, waiting for those lush October rains,” she said.

“Before we start opening it up in tinder dry conditions, we need an evacuation plan and deserve an evacuation plan as a community.”

Another resident asked council to block the trails until the forest had “adequate rain,” explaining that last week’s rainfall “barely reached the forest floor.”

A third resident noted that since the fire closure, the beach had been “nicely empty” and there were fewer visitors and tourists.

“That’s one kind of nice thing that happened with trail and parking closures,” she said.

In response to criticism of council’s decision, Coun. Marcus Reuter maintained it was not a political decision.

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“It was a decision made at this table in the absence of the longer-term solutions and the operational staff strength, where we’re clearly lacking. Council stepped up (and) I think it worked very well,” he said.

But he recognized a “certain degree of unrest.”

“Frankly a lot of the people promulgating that unrest, I don’t think they make it out of bed in the morning, they couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag, so we didn’t quite have the insurrection moment that some might have feared.”

Council voted to maintain the trailhead closure three-to-one with one councillor abstaining. Council plans to re-evaluate its decision this week.

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