BY JOHN BOIVIN
Local Journalism Initiative Reporting
Residents of communities around the Arrow Lakes say they’re fed up with tourists commandeering tiny day-use sites, preventing locals from using them.
“People are starting to get really angry. Every year there are more campers and it’s causing more problems,” says Quinn DeCourcy, who lives in Edgewood.
DeCourcy took RDCK Area K Director Paul Peterson on a tour of several sites last week around Needles and Edgewood, where locals’ beach access was recently blocked. The Valley Voice tagged along the trip.
The spots are down narrow, winding bush trails. They remained locals-only for years, but over time – and with public campsites barred to non-B.C. residents this year, informal sites have been discovered by out-of-towners.
“A dozen people from out of town come here, they take over the beach, they don’t pay a nickel,” says Peterson. “Then they each go back and tell a dozen more people about this pristine place they can go where they don’t pay anything, and they can have all the parties they want.”
One beach on Whatshan Lake was empty the morning of the tour, but it was a very different scene on the August long weekend. DeCourcy says an Edgewood resident counted more than 50 vehicles, RVs and campers set up in the tiny space. Pictures from the weekend show an RV parked just a metre from the water’s edge. The rest of the shore had been taken over by tents.
Tempers are beginning to flare as more local beaches get taken over by gangs of out-of-province partiers, who leave a mess and strained environment.
“Human waste is a problem, that makes it a place you don’t want to be,” says DeCourcy. “It’s frustrating that we put work into the upkeep of a day use area and that when people break the rules we don’t have any recourse.”
“We want people to use it, but we want them to use it responsibly, and with respect.”
The situation had the Ministry of Transport ordering road maintenance crews to block vehicle access to one local quarry-turned-party-spot near Burton. The barriers were installed last week.
The problem is at several locations, from Edgewood to past Nakusp. Teresa Weatherhead says she and her husband tried to access a favourite kayak launching spot north of Burton on the long weekend.
“They had a sign at the top of the road saying ‘Welcome home from jail, Noah’. There were five different vehicles and their trailers down this narrow path, and they were camping,” says Weatherhead, who is Peterson’s alternate on the RDCK board. “We couldn’t even try to get down, or turn around.
“When my husband asked if they could move their vehicles, they said, ‘no, we’re using this space’. They inhabited the whole beach, the whole area. What could you do about it?”
While the beaches he inspected were deserted during Peterson’s tour, he’s worried about the upcoming long weekend and how local people will react if they’re blocked from accessing the rec sites.
“It’s the obnoxiousness that gets to me,” says Peterson. “The lack of humility. The sense of entitlement.”
Peterson says it’s a problem that’s getting worse.
“What concerns me the most is that the complaints have doubled every year for the last four years, and this year it’s even past that,” he says. “It’s the self entitlement, the attitude that ‘it’s our beach, take off’.”
And it’s not only in the Arrow Lakes region. Regional District directors from Nelson, Salmo, Kaslo, and the Slocan all raised the same issue at the RDCK’s August 20 meeting.
Peterson says solving the problem is complicated, and will require the province taking some action.
“But there’s so many ministries, and the provincial government is far away, in Victoria, and the attitude is ‘so what?’,” he says. “You’re supposed to call the conservation officer, but we have one C.O. for what – every 50,000 square miles?”
And Peterson says it’s out of local hands.
“I have absolutely no authority to do anything about it,” he says. “But I will see if the RD can get something set up to allow us to kick out the troublemakers and allow the good people to enjoy themselves.”
Peterson says locals may have to organize to push for better maintenance at the sites, physical barriers for RVs, better washroom facilities, and the like.
But he says there also has to be an attitude adjustment on the part of some out-of-towners.
“They act like they own it and don’t want anybody else here, they’re being very obnoxious,” he says. “Only a few are making a tremendous mess, but they all get blamed for it … the total disrespect for the community, the neighbourhood, for the environment, for the lake, there’s no respect going on.”
“It’s going to be a disaster every year.”
-From the Valley Voice