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Lion's Bay council divided over trailhead parking ban despite lower risk of wildfires

A majority of Lions Bay councillors voted to close parking at local trailheads due to wildfire concerns on Aug. 24, 2023. (Submitted by Ken Berry - image credit)
A majority of Lions Bay councillors voted to close parking at local trailheads due to wildfire concerns on Aug. 24, 2023. (Submitted by Ken Berry - image credit)

The council and mayor of the Village of Lion's Bay are divided over whether to allow hikers and visitors to park at trailheads within the municipality due to wildfire risk.

Tuesday evening, a majority of Lions Bay councilors voted to extend the parking closure until Sept. 19.

"The risk has not gone away," said Coun. Jaime Cunliffe, who voted in favour of extending the closure. "Had it rained for four days straight and the temperatures remained at 16 degrees, then it would have been a different conversation last night."

Lion's Bay council first voted to close parking at all local hiking trails over wildfire concerns on Aug. 24 — with the closure taking effect the following day.

Lions Bay Coun. Jaime Cunliffe says allowing vehicles to park at popular trailheads in the municipality would complicate evacuation efforts in the event of a wildfire.
Lions Bay Coun. Jaime Cunliffe says allowing vehicles to park at popular trailheads in the municipality would complicate evacuation efforts in the event of a wildfire.

Lions Bay Coun. Jaime Cunliffe says allowing vehicles to park at popular trailheads in the municipality would complicate evacuation efforts in the event of a wildfire. (Submitted by Ken Berry)

Mayor Ken Berry supported the closure of the trailhead parking at the time, given the escalation in wildfires in the Interior.

However, on Tuesday, Berry voted to reopen parking at the trailheads.

"That's completely contrary to what the experts have advised and what the fire chief is recommending and the Metro Emergency Management is recommending, and they're recommending that we keep the trails open."

Popular trailheads located within Lions Bay

Located less than an hour's drive from Vancouver, the Village of Lions Bay is home to several popular trailheads, including Tunnel Bluffs, Brunswick Mountain, Centennial Trail and the West Lion.

The municipality may have the right to limit parking at trailheads, but jurisdiction over the trails themselves lies elsewhere.

Many of the trails are located in Cypress Provincial Park or on Crown land.

In an email, a Ministry of Environment spokesperson told CBC News that "local government has the jurisdiction to establish bylaws to manage for wildfire risk [within] their boundaries."

The spokesperson said the B.C. Wildfire Service is responsible for closing areas due to wildfire risk, including all Crown land and parks.

Currently, no evacuation alerts or orders are affecting the Lower Mainland and Sea to Sky corridor.

Fire chief says hikers help report new wildfires

At a special council meeting last Thursday, the local fire chief said the region is not at an extreme fire risk level and that even "astronomical" numbers of hikers on trails aren't a concern.

"The hikers and backcountry enthusiasts, they [report] way more fires than they ever start," said Lions Bay Fire Chief Barrett Germscheid

Germscheid added that the region is not in the "30-30" zone — above 30 C and below 30 per cent humidity — that firefighters deem to be an extreme risk. Outside of that zone, he said, fires started by lightning strikes are likely to stay smouldering without spreading quickly.

At a Wednesday news conference, Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Minister Bowinn Ma said over the last few days, evacuation alerts covering approximately 30,000 people have been rescinded, allowing families to "breathe a sigh of relief as the threat level has reduced.''

However, Cunliffe says new fire starts aren't the only risk posed by letting in hikers.

"We don't have an evacuation plan in the case that there was [a fire], so to have a huge amount more vehicles trying to get out of a village that doesn't have a plan is concerning."

The council is set to revisit the parking closure on Sept. 19.