The recent fire by the Taylor River brought an issue that has been brewing in my head for quite a while back to mind: camping along the Taylor River.
It is half an hour from town along a highway (Hwy 4) that is purported to carry a million people a year to the West Coast of the Island and back. The road is a scenic corridor acknowledged by the province in the way it manages the logging in the area. The river itself is an important sockeye salmon spawning river with significant enhancement investments along it. Trailheads nearby can lead you to the top of Mount Klitsa (the old way), Mount Porter and Brigade Lake. In the winter you can find cross-country skiers and snowmobiles using the logging roads. And there are at least 30 campsites in the area.
Well, perhaps “campsite” is a stretch. Usually all that is there is a fire pit, a little garbage and some toilet paper. In short, the Taylor Flats is an enormous recreational opportunity waiting to become more established.
But there are some issues. Obviously fire is one of them. In doing some scouting around the lower reaches of the river, I found the recent fire. It was easy to tell that a campfire started it as the fire pit was still there and showed all the signs of recent use. It was next to a small rock wall up which the fire had traveled to ignite the young plantation next to it. Fortunately, because this is close to (and on the same side of) the busy highway, it was spotted quickly and contained. However, the next time things might work out differently. And I know there will be a next time.
Another issue is the degradation of fish habitat by driving quads and pickups on the gravel bars. There is a lot of it. Coming from a forestry background, I knew this was probably not cool. But to be sure I asked a fish biologist I know and a Fisheries Officer, too, if this activity was okay. Most assuredly, it is not!
Then there are the number of people who visit and leave their “scat” behind along with toilet tissue. Presumably, each campsite has a designated spot. I don’t know a lot about fecal matters, but I am concerned that increasing use of these sites could end up being problematic for campers, and possibly a health concern for campers downstream, fish and the residents who still drink untreated lake water.
Another consideration is that there is a large tract of private land that encompasses the mouth of the Taylor River and a bit of the upland above the roads on each side of the river. By my reckoning, the fire started on a section of this property. Not that this makes much difference, except to provide more incentive for the owner, Island Timberlands, to restrict access in the area.
Camping anywhere suitable on Crown Land is allowed. Generally the province hasn’t an issue with people camping on the Taylor Flats. Policy allows people to spend up to two weeks on a site. But there have been cases where people were evicted, and others have been using sites because they are homeless.
The river flats lend themselves to camping. Because of the meanderings of the river with all its sloughs and side channels, and because riparian buffers are now required along them as well as the river, very little of it is accessible for logging. When you add in all the other opportunities for outdoor recreation in the area, perhaps it is time to consider a more formal management arrangement of the area, such as a Recreation Site, a Provincial Park or even a resort.
As it is now, it is something closer to the Wild West.