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The Rec Site: Free Public Recreation, or For-Profit Business?

Snow-covered Igloo cabin and a portion of Mt. Plewman. Photo by Sara Golling

With seven billion and counting on this little planet, space in some places is at a premium.  We're so lucky here in BC's southern interior -- we aren't overly crowded.  And yet, we still compete for space.  Space for recreation in the back-country in some areas is highly contentious, with horse-back riders, hikers, skiers, snowshoers, sledders, dirt bikers, mountain bikers (including fat bikers in the winter) and others fighting to occupy the same hills and valleys with their favourite activity.  Some of those activities don't mix very well.   

Once again, we're so lucky here; with the establishment of the Rossland Range Recreation Site for free self-propelled public recreation, and a selection of day-use shelters -- which we've always called "cabins" so please excuse me if I slip and call them that here -- paid for by donors who strongly support free public access, or by public funds, and built by energetic and dedicated volunteers who put huge amounts of time, labour, and loving care into those cabins. Note the delicate snowflake stencils on the soffits of Mosquito, and the carvings at Lepsoe Basin Cabin, and the wonderful painted doors on Sunspot and Viewpoint. 

The new cabins look spiffy and they're a whole new dimension of cleanliness compared with the old rodent-infested, dirt-floored, not-actually-legal  but dearly-beloved structures built by rebel recreationists prior to the Rec Site's existence.

Using them is open to the public, free of charge.  But this is a Forestry Recreation Site now.  There are some rules, and one of them is that commercial activity -- you know, things like taking people into the Rec Site on tours that they pay for -- is not permitted.  Not without advance authorization.

Want to look it up?  Go to the website with BC legislation, and find the Forest Recreation Regulation.   Section 16 prohibits the use of a recreation site or recreation trail for any business  activity, or competitive sporting events, without prior authorization from a District Recreation Officer.  It also prohibits gatherings of more than 15 people -- that's so a great noisy mob doesn't keep others from enjoying the place.

At least one local entrepreneur has been advertising commercial  tours into the Rec Site, for a range of  prices. 

On the one hand, this person may not have realized that the new status of the Rec Site triggered new rules.  The putative businessperson is intent on introducing newbies to the hills, trails and cabins of the Rec Site, the fun and beauty  of winter outdoors, with a bit of guidance.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  And on trying to make a buck, and we can all sympathize with that.

On the  other hand,  it's likely that at least some of  the donors, and the volunteers who sweated hours and days and weeks of their time to create shelters for free public use just might resent someone swooping in and occupying what they created and intended for free public use -- to make that buck. 

The Rossland Range Recreation Site is managed by the Friends of the Rossland Range Society (FORRS) under an agreement  with Forestry.  The Management Plan can be viewed on the FORRS website.  But that plan does not relieve anyone of the requirement to get authorization -- a permit -- for any commercial activity in the Rec Site.

The District Recreation Officer has become aware of the advertised tours, as has  FORRS.  The FORRS board of directors will be meeting shortly, to discuss how best to deal with this particular issue.  The directors will consult with the District Recreation Officer, and with the various "hut keepers."  They want to generate a policy to guide all decisions about commercial use, and they want to ensure that any permitted commercial activity will not inhibit or limit free public use of the Rec Site trails or cabins.  

Are you wondering about enforcement of the Forest Recreation Regulation?   Contravening various parts of it (including section 16) is an "offence" and a person convicted of it is liable to, in the language of the Regulation, "a fine not exceeding $5000 or to imprisonment for not more than six months, or to both."  That's in Section 24. But hey, we all just want to get along here. Let's not get all punitive.  On the other hand, let's abide by the Rec Site regulations, too, so everyone who wants to can enjoy it.  For free.

After all, the main concern driving the  Rec Site's creation was to protect continued  free public recreational  use of the area it encompasses  -- to keep free public recreation from being crowded out by commercial operations.   Stay tuned.