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FOREST INK: Stimulation of local economy with heli-bike proposal

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The view from Butler Mountain looking into West Branch valley. (Photo submitted)

My initial involvement with the Eniyud Community Forest (ECF) was in 2009 when I worked on a contract to identify the non timber values in the ECF. The community forest is a joint venture between the Tatla Lake resource association and Tsi Del Del (Redstone).

Based on the wide variety of natural features (lakes, grasslands, forests and alpine areas) recreation potential was one of the areas we looked at. Hunting, fishing, camping and hiking were well established and due to limited funding we looked at improving only a couple of trails (one in the lowlands and one into the alpine forest areas).

While logging has provided more access to the remote forest areas, to my knowledge there has not been much attempt to develop more recreation trails. A recent notice in the local paper of intention to establish a licence of occupation for guided heli biking tours got my attention.

The executive summary and details in the proposal are as follows: “Joyride Bike Parks Inc. (JBPI) is requesting a tenure agreement for an Extensive Use License, pursuant to the Adventure Tourism (AT) policy, for a 30 year term, in order to conduct guided heli biking tours on Crown land south of the community of Tatla Lake, west of Williams Lake” some of the key points of the plan are the following:

The tenure is approximately 58,250 ha. The company has identified a Phase 1 Development Area (approximately 39,500 ha) which includes approximately 137 kms of trails, with the balance of the tenure area (estimated at 19,000 ha) designated as Phase 2 — Future Development Area.

• Access to the tenure area will be by helicopter with clients being picked up from the staging area at the south end of Bluff Lake, and transported to the various drop off points. The tours do not include any heli pick up points, as all tours will return to the staging area by bike.

• Clients will stay at the White Saddle Country Inn, situated on private land at the south end of Bluff Lake. All bike trips will be staged from this location. The heli bike tours will occur from approximately June 1 to Oct. 15, with the start of the operating season subject to snowmelt in the spring, and the end of the season subject to arrival of snow. The company is anticipating a 20 week operating season. The group size is four clients with one guide/group. The capacity of the White Saddle Country Inn is 25 people, therefore the capacity of the bike tours is six groups of four clients/day. The company expects most clients will stay approximately three days.

Projects like this will no doubt create a wide variety of comments both for and against. I for one have mixed emotions about some of the potential impacts.

The stimulation of the local economy will certainly be positive for people directly involved with the project and there will be economic spin off to many other business in the immediate area.

One of the attractions for the locals to the area is the low population density and any major change is often considered a threat to their lifestyle. While an additional 25 people scattered throughout the proposed remote areas is unlikely to make a major difference there could be impacts on some of the delicate alpine areas that are in the proposal.

I was impressed by the details of the plan which will be supported by the experience of the JBPI partnership along with White Saddle staff and would hope any public concerns could be addressed.

I will be sending in my comments about some aspects of the proposal and I urge the public to do the same before the Dec. 26, 2020 deadline.

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Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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