South Chilcotin Mountains Park

Management Suggestions

Due to the amount of visitor traffic around the Spruce Lake area, there have been multiple occasions of close collisions between different trail users, especially horseback riders and mountain bikers traveling at high speed. BC Parks responded to the increased concerns about trail safety by creating a second trail that runs parallel to the original.

Another similar problem is along Gun Creek Trail, where bike riders travelling south from Spruce Lake have a lot of speed and momentum due to the downhill gradient. Similarly to Tyaughton Creek Trail, fast or sudden approaches can frighten horses which can cause them to throw their riders and especially next to rushing rivers this has caused serious consequences.

BC Parks needs to proactively find a solution for these pressure-point trails, where the risk of collision between different types of users and resulting injury is high and has happened. Although this may not match the values of a Wilderness Recreation Park, a similar strategy of creating separate parallel trails could be used to help diffuse conflicts on Tyaughton Creek Trail and Gun Creek Trail. The other options are implementing speed limits or prohibition of float plane drop-offs at high elevation lakes for mountain bikers to speed downhill.

According to ‘Chapter 10: Recreation Trail Management’ in the BC Ministry of Forests Recreation Manual, ‘trail maintenance should reflect the level of use and classification of the trail’, however Potato Patch Bridge and Eldorado Creek Bridge on two of the most heavily used trails have become dangerous and need repairing.

Potato Patch Bridge is located to the south of Spruce Lake on the ‘Spruce Lake Main Trail’ which is a primary trail (see figure 1). Eldorado Creek Bridge is situated on Gun Creek Trail where it crosses Eldorado Creek near the campsite (see figure 2). Bridges at both locations have become unsafe and inappropriately built for the level of use they receive. A slippery deck and no installation of side rails causes horses and people to slip easily and fall off the bridge.

At the last Gun Creek Bridge, the handrails have begun to rot and need replacing before they fall apart. However, the main concern is the 24 inch height difference between the trail and the bridge walkway. On one side, a make-shift ramp has been created by placing large stones leading up to the bridge, however this is extremely narrow and slippery during rain. On the other side, it is difficult for horses to step down safely from the bridge, and they could easily be injured by stepping on rocks or slipping. The best solution would be for BC Parks to instal ramps at both ends of the bridge.

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Sources:

  • Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. (1998). Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act

The South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park is a designated Wilderness Recreation Zone and one of the most biodiverse areas in the province. According to the BC Parks Zoning Framework (2012), the management objective for this type of park is to ‘protect a remote and undisturbed natural landscape’, with the management guidelines ‘orientated to protect a pristine environment’. 

For example, the visitors in Joffre Lakes increased with 168% between 2010 and 2018 and now has over 180,000 hikers and campers a year. Visitor numbers over park capacity lead to serious environmental and safety issues. Trails are so congested that people forge new paths, damaging sensitive vegetation. Human-wildlife conflict rises as visitors leave trash, meaning more bears have to be destroyed by Conservation Officers. Another example is at Tweedsmuir Provincial Park – North, where the waterways have become so busy that ‘Marine Access Camping’ and ‘Winching Service’ fees have been imposed.

Roughly half of the campsites in BC Parks work on a first-come-first-serve basis. However, due to the vast number of visitors to the most popular parks, many now use ‘Discover Canada’ as an online management system for booking camping spots. This means there are a limited number of campsites available. Visitors must book ahead of time and pay a fee to reserve their camping spot. This revenue is then recycled back into BC Parks and put into maintenance and conservation efforts.

Looking at other Provincial Parks around BC, it is clear that the South Chilcotin Mountains Park must be proactive in managing visitor numbers before any damage is done to the sensitive ecosystems and wildlife that are native to the area. A ‘lottery system’ should be implemented for allocating a pre-set number of access passes to the park. The lottery system is also being used for trails on Vancouver Island, and in other parks across the world, for example in Yosemite National Park in the USA. Other countries, such as New Zealand, also use a lottery system to control visitor numbers in a fair and unbiased way.

Further research must be carried out in order to understand the feasibility of the lottery system, as well as determining where the balance lies between limiting access to the park for wilderness preservation whilst encouraging people to get out in the mountains and share the joy of the South Chilcotins.

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Sources:

Float Planes are a popular option for getting into the backcountry with little effort. Taking off from Tyaughton Lake the planes fly to various lakes inside the South Chilcotin Mountain and Big Creek Park – like Spruce , Lorna and Warner Lake. The use of aircrafts impacts wildlife in different ways. B. Churchill and B. Holland prepared the paper “Wildlife and aircraft operation: assessment of impacts, mitigation and recommendation for best management practices in the Peace Region” on behalf of the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Peace Region in 2003. They analyzed features with high risk of impact the risk of impacts like noise, movement and close approaches are a few features with high risk of impact, causing flight by animals, stress, direct or indirect mortality, range avoidance or abandonment and reduced reproductive success. As a result they suggest general mitigation actions and best management practices like:

  1. Identify wildlife concerns for the area
  2. Preparation of a written plan to avoid/mitigate impacts on wildlife including
    1. Designated wildlife species of concern (timing windows)
    2. Designated avoidance distances (400m vertical x 2000 m horizontal rule)
    3. Seasonally avoiding sheep and goat winter range and birthing/rearing areas
    4. Avoiding cliff habitat potentially used by sheep, goats, and cliff nesting raptors

Float Planes currently displace the wildlife in the area surrounding the lakes that they land on and along the way they are flying. The Canadian Aviation Regulations (1.11.3) state that “to preserve the natural environment of parks, reserves and refuges and to minimize the disturbance to the natural habitat, overflights should not be conducted below 2000 feet above ground level.” These rules have to be enforced by BC Parks and followed by the tourism companies. 

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Sources: 

Churchill, B., Holland, B. (Chillborne Environmental). 2003: Wildlife and aircraft operation: assessment of impacts, mitigation and recommendation for best management practices in the Peace Region. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/plants-animals-and-ecosystems/wildlife-wildlife-habitat/regional-wildlife/northeast-region/best-mgmt-practices/aircraft_operations_wildlife_mitigation_report.pdf

Transport Canada. 2020: RAC – RULES OF THE AIR AND AIR TRAFFIC SERVICES. https://tc.canada.ca/sites/default/files/migrated/aim_2020_1_e_rac.pdf

Heli Skiing is a very popular winter sport in the South Chilcotin Mountains and Bridge River Valley. Guides and guests are dropped off on the otherwise hardly accessible mountain by the helicopter, they ski downhill and get picked up in the valley.

The use of aircrafts impacts wildlife in different ways. B. Churchill and B. Holland prepared the paper “Wildlife and aircraft operation: assessment of impacts, mitigation and recommendation for best management practices in the Peace Region” on behalf of the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Peace Region in 2003. They analyzed features with high risk of impact the risk of impacts like noise, movement and close approaches are a few features with high risk of impact, causing flight by animals, stress, direct or indirect mortality, range avoidance or abandonment and reduced reproductive success. As a result they suggest general mitigation actions and best management practices like:

  1. Identify wildlife concerns for the area 
  2. Preparation of a written plan to avoid/mitigate impacts on wildlife including
  1. Designated wildlife species of concern (timing windows)
  2. Designated avoidance distances (400m vertical x 2000 m horizontal rule)
  3. Seasonally avoiding sheep and goat winter range and birthing/rearing areas
  4. Avoiding cliff habitat potentially used by sheep, goats, and cliff nesting raptors

Heli skiing is currently conducted in the winter ranges of wildlife, especially mountain goats in the Slim and Eldorado area. The Canadian Aviation Regulations (1.11.2) state that “in the interest of conserving wildlife, pilots must not fly at an altitude of less than 2 000 ft AGL when in the vicinity of herds of wildlife animals or above wildlife refuges/bird sanctuaries, depicted on affected aeronautical charts.”  Currently the designated heli ski runs are in close proximity to the winter ranges of mountain goats. The designated heli skiing areas have to be reviewed by BC Parks.

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Sources: 

Churchill, B., Holland, B. (Chillborne Environmental). 2003: Wildlife and aircraft operation: assessment of impacts, mitigation and recommendation for best management practices in the Peace Region. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/plants-animals-and-ecosystems/wildlife-wildlife-habitat/regional-wildlife/northeast-region/best-mgmt-practices/aircraft_operations_wildlife_mitigation_report.pdf

Transport Canada. 2020: RAC – RULES OF THE AIR AND AIR TRAFFIC SERVICES. https://tc.canada.ca/sites/default/files/migrated/aim_2020_1_e_rac.pdf

South Chilcotin Mountain and Big Creek Provincial Parks are class A Wilderness Parks. Because of historical recreational use, an extensive trail system has been established and is maintained by BC Parks. It is prohibited to create new trails. Yet new mountain bike trails are being created every year. The mountain bike community needs to do better self regulations. 

You can find the official BC Parks- South Chilcotin Mountains Park trail map here.

Trails are getting washed out up to 1 m deep, due to erosion. Especially in the spring, when the snow melts and water is running down the trails. Waterbars can prevent the trails from being washed out, by dispersing the water in different directions. Park work crews need direction to reduce the erosion on the trails. Here are a few locations where water bars are necessary according to regular visitors of the park:

  • Lick Trail in the alpine
  • Deer Pass (south slope/Trigger Lake site)
  • Elbow Pass Trail
  • Eldorado

Stay on Main Trails

All park users are advised to use the main trails as designated on the SCMP map on BC Parks website only! Any off-trail use in the South Chilcotin Mountain and Big Creek Provincial Park is prohibited. Yet BC Parks website is contradictory, they also promote a map with many off trail routes. This needs to be adjusted.

You can find the official BC Parks – South Chilcotin Mountains Park trail map here.

No Electric Mountain Bikes in the South Chilcotin Mountain and Big Creek Park

South Chilcotin Mountain and Big Creek Provincial Parks are class A Wilderness Parks. Bicycles with any kind of electric assist motors (e-bikes) are not allowed on the trails within South Chilcotin Mountains and Big Creek Park. The mountain bike community needs to be encouraged to better self regulate according to this rule and BC Parks needs more signage and education.


Contribute to Wildlife Conservation

Are you looking to contribute to research in the Chilcotin Ark as you visit the area? If you want to complete a research or conservation project in the Chilcotin Ark, we have an extensive database and the resources to help you. Contact us here to enquire about your options. 

Or record your observations and share them with us to strengthen the database and knowledge about wildlife in the Chilcotin Ark. We utilize the collected data to monitor species populations and gain information about current trends. Fill in the online wildlife survey to share your observations while you are out in the Chilcotin Ark. You can also download a wildlife sighting form PDF to take notes on the way and fill in the online form when you are back home.