The return of winter is stoking the fires of a perennial conflict in Vancouver Island’s largest park.
The Comox District Mountaineering Club is calling out snowmobilers for operating their machines in Strathcona Provincial Park.
The club’s president, Joe Lumsdon, says it’s an issue that arises almost every year.
“Motorized vehicles are not supposed to be inside the park boundaries,” he said. “They get on their machines, come into the pristine areas of the park and run their machines all over the place.
“The machines are noisy and I’m sure they certainly scare a lot of wildlife.”
According to Strathcona Park regulations, snowmobiles are not to be operated except in areas permitted by a sign or as authorized by a park officer.
The current fine for operating a snowmobile in the park is $230.
A Strathcona senior park ranger told the Record he is familiar with the mountaineering club’s complaints.
“Visitors to Strathcona Park are becoming increasingly frustrated by some snowmobiler’s lack of respect for park regulations,” the official wrote in a statement.
While Lumsdon says he has not personally seen snowmobilers in the area, he has seen tracks that prove they were there.
He stressed, however, that he does not want to put the blame on designated snowmobiling clubs.
“Am I saying it’s any specific snowmobilers? No, I don’t think it is. I find the responsible snowmobile clubs would do their best to honour what the law is,” he said. “It’s the renegade fellas who aren’t a member of anything, who jump on their machine and go, ‘oh look at this beautiful lake’.
“Really, what we’re saying is that there are lots of places for them to go,” Lumsdon continued. “I don’t like (snowmobiles) personally, but that doesn’t mean I think they should all be banned. Just stay out of the park, that’s all I’m asking.”
But some snowmobilers disagree that they have lots of places to ride.
There are two recreational snowmobiling clubs that operate in or near the Comox Valley: the North Island Snowmobile Association (NISA) and the Mid-Island Sno-blazers.
Both clubs have land use agreements with private timberlands companies that authorize where their members are allowed to go. The Sno-blazers have a land use agreement with Timberwest that permits members to ride near Mount Washington, while NISA has an agreement with Island Timberlands to ride on its land on Mount Adrian.
The clubs say they do not condone riding in Strathcona park and that their members stick to their designated riding areas.
Rob Hanna, a former president of the Sno-blazers and a 40-year member of the club, says the areas that snowmobilers can legally access has been shrinking, as the B.C. government aims to protect more provincial land.
“Over the last 20 years we have lost 80 to 90 per cent of our previously accessible land,” said Hanna “Now we — snowmobile, ATV, UTV, and motorcycle users — are left with paying corporations to have very restricted access and use of only a couple of small rideable areas.”
Hanna said most snowmobilers do not join organized clubs and that the sport has grown immensely in the last 10 years.
Information on snowmobile use, related regulations, and boundary maps for Strathcona park can be found at bit.ly/2AZbFcV