December 1st, 2012

Radium Catamount Glacier Proposed Opening

It seems more common these days to hear of snowmobiling areas closures than openings.  However, just such an opening has been proposed for the Catamount Glacier near Radium, BC.  The Provincial Section 58 order amendment is intended to address long-standing conflict between user groups of the upper Forster Creek drainage.  At issue is the non-compliance of snowmobilers who have been using the closed glacier area for years, despite the closure order.  Various stakeholder groups in the area, including the Windermere Valley Snowmobile Society (WVSS), Columbia Valley Hut Society, non-motorized recreationalists, a commercial snowmobile operation, environmental group Wildsight, RK Heli Ski, and BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations officers have met to help form and support the order amendment in hopes that a compromise can be met.

The proposal would open the Catamount Glacier for snowmobile use between February 15th and June 1st, annually. Regarding the mid-season opening date, WVSS President Barry Lightfoot says, “A lot of times you can’t get up there until February because the rocks on the toe of that glacier are half the size of a home and the size of pick-up trucks, so they take about 8-10 feet of snow to fill before you can even think about going up there.  For some reason, they’d like us to have a date on it, and we’re happy with that.”

The adjacent North Star Glacier would remain closed year round for the use of the other vested groups. The entire agreement hinges on the idea that by opening Catamount Glacier for snowmobile use, those sledders will enjoy the increased area and terrain, and respect the adjacent closures. In an effort to discourage sledders from entering the North Star Glacier closure, the WVSS intends to gate off and sign the 6ft wide stretch that has been used illegally to access the glacier in the past.  In addition, Lightfoot says, “we’re going to educate people at the bottom, you know, because it’s only a one-year agreement.” If we do ruin this agreement, they might come up with another way to keep sledders off that glacier, so that’s another thing that hopefully everybody can agree with.  We’re very fortunate if we can pull this off.  Hopefully everybody stays on our side.”

Although the proposal has yet to be officially approved, there is hope that it will be in place for this winter season.  MFLNR officer Brennan Clarke, had the following to say:  “While stakeholders have agreed to the new rule for snowmobile use and skiing on and around Catamount Glacier, there are several steps that need to be completed before the changes take effect.  Ministry staff are compiling all the public comments received so far and plan to address any outstanding issues that may come to their attention.  There are also details such as engineering, enforcement and stakeholder commitment that remain to be finalized.  It’s hoped the new regime will be in place for this winter; however, at this time the ministry is unable to confirm a date when the agreement will be signed and implements.”

“We’re encouraged that the parties came together and agreed to these changes and we hope to have this agreement implemented as soon as possible,” says Aina Cernenoks, Rocky Mountain District recreation officer.

“We’re trying to get along too.  We’re trying to give and take,” says Lightfoot.  “It’s a one-time agreement and [we] won’t get a second chance at this.  It’s taken us 15 years, probably around anywhere from 25 to 30 meetings of people sitting around for hours, and it took us 11 meetings just to come to a head in the last 2 years.  It’s been a lot of work.  Everybody has to respect [the agreement].”

The glacier opening would be a major draw for sledders, as it would significantly increase the amount of readable terrain in the Forster drainage, as well as make for one of the largest and most easily accessible glaciers open to sledding in the region.