Backcountry snowmobiling near Sproatt highlights need for enforcement, awareness

Motorized use outside of recommended boundaries could impact local watershed

The local sledding community is concerned with snowmobilers going outside the provincially recommended boundaries for motorized use in the Sproatt Mountain area beside Rainbow Lake.

The province's current Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP), approved in 2008, recommends boundaries preventing motorized use in 21 Mile Creek, on Rainbow and Gin and Tonic lakes and the north side of Sproatt and Rainbow mountains. Of particular concern is the potential impact out-of-bounds sledders could have on Whistler's watershed at Rainbow Lake, which serves the municipality's drinking water supply. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is tasked with maintaining the boundaries set out in the document, although officers are left with few enforcement options based on the current legislation, said Sea to Sky District recreation officer Alistair McCrone.

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"The LRMP is not a binding document, it's the recommendations for where we should move towards in terms of management as a result of negotiating with all the involved parties," he said. "It would be in everybody's best interest to learn about where they're riding and the rules and recommendations associated with those areas."

A Ministry spokesperson said while it's rarely enforced, the province has the option of fining snowmobilers up to $1,000 under B.C.'s Land Act for trespassing on Crown land.

Amidst concerns of increased conflicts among user groups and the potential impact on Whistler's watershed, Vancouver retiree Steve Grant has produced an unofficial report using satellite images that tracks motorized usage outside of the provincially recommended boundaries in the Sproatt and Rainbow Lake area.

"The evidence that we have from the satellite imagery is that the extent of the violations is greater than anybody might imagine," said Grant. "If you do the math on which snowmobiles are parked where you realize that at least all of the non-commercial snowmobilers in that area the day the imagery was taken are not where they're supposed to be."

In one satellite image, there are 17 snowmobiles pictured outside of the LRMP boundaries.

General manager Craig Beattie of Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, who maintains tenure for commercial motorized use in the area, said his staff stringently follows the guidelines outlined in the LRMP.

"We've got 40 to 50 employees based off of our tenure, and the last thing we need to do is jeopardize all of their employment plus the company's investment into our tenure in Sproatt. It strictly prohibits us from the watershed," he said.

Once Canadian Snowmobile Adventures obtained the Callaghan Valley tenure, construction began to restore old logging roads into the remote area. A paved road was completed several years ago, and has allowed for easier access to the alpine.

"It used to be tough, you had to go up this route called the Staircase, and you would need a group of guys to go with you and everybody would have to be a good rider to get up there," said Powder Mountain Snowmobile and Outdoor Recreation Club co-president Gavin Christie. "Now any idiot can get up there cruising up Canadian (Snowmobile Adventure's) road."

For Christie and the sledding community, the major concern remains the lack of public awareness of the recommended boundaries. There is signage, including three recently installed four-by-eight foot signs at the bottom of the Sproatt Mountain access area, that denote the LRMP's boundaries for motorized use.

"If you go up there now, you can't even see the signs because they're buried," said Christie, who has developed an application for smartphones using government data and Google Maps that shows sledders where they are relative to the nearby watershed and provincially recommended boundaries. He presented the app in a letter outlining his club's concerns with out-of-bounds riders in a recent meeting with representatives from the municipality, Canadian Snowmobile Adventures and environmental consultants Cascade Environmental.

Christie wants the province to take a more proactive approach in enforcing the LRMP's boundaries and suggested installing a series of tall metal poles that denote the permitted area similar to what's been done in Revelstoke.

For Grant, it's too late for the province to step up their enforcement efforts; he wants to see snowmobilers banned from the Sproatt area altogether.

"Everything that's been talked about or done has been completely ineffective and I think it's time to take it to the next step and simply ban snowmobiling from that area," he said. "A lot of busy people made a lot of sacrifices to participate in the LRMP process If that zoning is not observed then it's a slap in the face and a waste of their time."

To view Grant's unofficial report on non-authorized motorized usage in the Rainbow Lake and Sproatt Mountain area, visit www.tinyurl.com/SnowmobileReport.

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