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Red tape prevents popular Squamish trail from being improved, says trail society

The Estuary's Swan Trail has several areas that flood and are difficult to access for those with mobility issues.

Matt Parker stands on a segment of one of the Squamish Estuary's most popular trails and points out a widened dirt patch filled with rocks.

It presents several fundamental problems. The downward slope and rocky surface make it hard for people with mobility issues. Seniors, among others, are frequent users of the trail.

During king tides, it floods, making this problem even worse. Finally, during these floods, people who can still walk that stretch of trail tend to go around it, cutting into vegetated areas, leading to erosion and encroachment of valuable habitat.

That's why Parker and others at the Squamish Trails Society want to improve that section and several other sections of the Swan Trail.

"At one point, we suggested culverts raising the bed or a series of boardwalks," he said.

"This area typically floods, and then what we have is people wandering into the sedge and into the Estuary trying to keep their feet dry and tromping on the vegetation. We feel with some timely trail work here, we'd actually be protecting the adjacent environment."

But fixing the problem isn't as easy as rolling up sleeves and picking up shovels. Red tape has hampered the society's ambitions for improving the path.

The non-profit society has been seeking permission to make improvements but has yet to obtain authorization to work on the trails.

Parker previously raised the issue with the municipality in a letter to council.

"We feel that it is prudent and indeed imperative to maintain this trail in a manner that it protects the surrounding environment and remains accessible to our oldest, youngest and more mobility challenged citizens," reads the letter to council. "The Squamish Trails Society is prepared to put funds and volunteer time toward this. We need your help in getting permission to do this."

However, since the area lies on Crown land, it's unclear if the District can do much in this situation.

In a statement issued to The Squamish Chief, the municipality said that its hands are tied.

"The Skwelwil'em Squamish Estuary is located within a Wildlife Management Area (WMA), and jurisdiction and management of this area falls under the Ministry of Forests," reads the statement from spokesperson Rachel Boguski. "The District's presence in the Estuary is purely educational as it relates to wildlife and responsible recreation. While we appreciate the Squamish Trails Society's desire to make improvements to the area, any requests for permission should be directed to the Conservation Officer Service."

The Squamish Chief asked the provincial government for comment on the matter, but did not receive a response before press deadline.

Getting permission from the province has proven to be a challenge for the society, Parker said. A cobweb of red tape has made it difficult to determine who can grant the society the green light to work on the trail.

Furthermore, complicating the issue is the history of the trail.

People entering the Estuary through the downtown Aqua development pass through the Heron trail and eventually hit the Swan Trail.

However, there are at least some segments of the Swan Trail that are not recognized as a trail. These paths were created when people travelled back and forth from the former West-Barr log sort.

"People used to cut through the log sort, usually through off hours to kind of make that connection from the end of the Heron trail to the Swan Trail," said Parker.

However, no official clearance under the provincial Section 57 was given to make that path.

"Unfortunately, [this] leaves us the situation to have in the eyes of some in a provincial jurisdiction, there is no trail there, even though there is a trail there," he said.

Parker said that the bottom line is he'd like to see the improvements done, no matter who does it. The society is more than happy to take up the mantle, but if the province or some other authority does it, he'd be just as happy.

After press deadline, on July 5, the province provided a response to The Squamish Chief's request for comment.

"The trail in question is not a constructed trail, but rather the remnant perimeter of the former West-Barr Log Sort site," reads a statement from the Ministry of Forests.

"This section of the Swan Trail goes through an ecologically sensitive portion of the Wildlife Management Area, and the trail obstructs the flow of tidal water within the WMA [Wildlife Management Area]."

The ministry said it had concerns about previous trail maintenance activities conducted within the Wildlife Management Area that were completed without all the required permissions.

"The ministry has communicated to the Squamish Trails Society that the proposed repairs to the Swan Trail adjacent to the former West-Barr Log Sort site would negatively affect the ecological integrity and resilience of the WMA, and thus the ministry would not authorize the proposed trail repair activities," the province continued.

According to ministry officials, the WMA management plan provides some guidance on trail building and maintenance.

It encourages the Squamish Trail Society and/or the District of Squamish to initiate an integrated trail plan for the WMA, Site A, and the district. 

It also calls for an agreement for the long-term management of walking trails with the Squamish Trail Society and/or the District of Squamish. Finally it urges the creation of trails that are designed in a manner that minimizes impacts to fish and wildlife.


***Updated on July 5 with a response from the province.