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Creature of the Black Tusk

Ministry of Forests and Lands Horror Stories

From a Volunteer Trail Builder’s Perspective

I remember the Darling Lake Trail of the 1990's with unusual clarity, despite having taken no pictures of it.  Back then, the trail was known as the 'Mamquam Icefield Trail'.  The man who built the original bridge across Paranoid Creek phoned me as he had read about my interest and explorations in the upper Skookum Drainage.  He wanted me to hike the entire trail and check out the first Paranoid Creek Bridge that he was so proud of in the hopes that I would contribute to maintaining and improving the trail.  

The following week after my summer stint teaching the club's mountaineering course, four of us set out to climb Mamquam in a day via the Mamquam Icefield Trail (Darling Lake Trail).  In fact, my two-wheel drive truck was able to drive the 'S Line' until the washout at Watersprite Creek in those days.  The man who built the bridge told me to look out for a rock cairn that marked the S2 logging spur and to take that spur to reach Paranoid Creek and his bridge.  The roads then were almost completely devoid of red alder, and we quickly reached and crossed Paranoid Creek by nearly the same route as is used today.  

I remember the trail that ascended Darling Ridge in the 1990's clearly.  The trail was thoroughly flagged, there was no deadfall and the footpath was narrow but continuously warn all the way to the ridge crest at 6,000 feet.  We looked down upon Darling Lake, which was mostly covered with snow that day.  I knew then, that there was something special about this place and that it was meant to be shared.

The realities of life pulled me away from Darling Lake and my beloved sport of hiking and mountaineering for many years, but the Darling Lake Trail remained alive in my thoughts and memories.  Almost 20 years had passed, and I had stood witness to the crumbling of access as hastily built logging roads were reduced to jungle by the mighty red alder and raging creeks.  But in 2013, I heard about the Skookum Independent Power Project and about the water intake dam access road slated to be built.  This was the solution.  The way to finally lock down access to this temperamental area.  The Darling Lake Trail would have it all - close proximity to Vancouver, stunning glaciers, a remote feeling and ease of access - even my 10 year old son would be able to hike it.  And with such a desperate shortage of quality hiking trails in the area, who in their right mind would object?

In March of 2015 we started to clear the logging roads.  At first, our trail crew was modest is size, but the word quickly spread.  As the weeks of hard work passed, our crew grew in enthusiasm and in size.  Great suffering was to be had, but eventually, the trail to the elusive Paranoid Creek had been restored (several hundred meters short of the Garibaldi Park Boundary).  More and more people were hearing rumors about the Darling Lake Trail, and a buzz began.  And we were fueled by that buzz to build the second Paranoid Creek Bridge utilizing a naturally fallen cedar and steel cable donated to us by the Skookum IPP.  And it was all very good and exciting.  A much better bridge indeed than the bridge of the 1990's.

But there was one group that also heard the rumors and was not happy.  Furious and humorless in fact is what I was told.  So I reached out to BC Parks in reaction to this rumor, which I knew likely to be true.  I phoned many times, asked for meetings, wanted to work as a team.  But BC Parks would have none of it.  They wanted only one thing; to shut us down.

And so, rather than discussing and negotiating with us, BC Parks simply phoned enforcement; simple and lazy.  And so it was that I became acquainted with the enforcement officers of the Ministry of Forest and Lands in Squamish.  I was quite amazed at all the horrors that we were to be accused of committing: 

1) Violating Winter Mountain Goat Ungulate Range - I later found out that our trail work at its closest point was still over 300 meters away from the nearest Mountain Goat Range (according their own research no less).  This was an odd thing for the forest office and BC Parks to obsess about, considering that the Garibaldi at Squamish Ski Proposal, which blatantly violates Mountain Goat Winter Ungulate Range, received a pass from the environmental assessment office and was not opposed by the Squamish Forest Office or its Enforcement Officers.  Heli-Ski Permits recently renewed by BC Parks in the Spearhead Range were also never questioned.

2) Violating "Rare Mountain Goat Mineral Licks" - How could this be, being that we never even entered Mountain Goat Range?  I later found out that no Mountain Goat Licks have to date to be discovered in the Coast Range.  We asked the forest office to provide the GPS location of these "Rare Mountain Goat Mineral Licks" for independent verification, but they flatly refused.  I asked myself, what are these people trying to hide and why?

3) Falling a tree at Paranoid Creek to create a bridge - We stumbled across a naturally fallen cedar spanning the entirety of Paranoid Creek and used it as the basis for our bridge across the creek.  We thought this to be an amazing gift of nature; worthy of song and dance.  Once video and photographic evidence was provided of the naturally fallen tree in its originally found state (also available on this site), the enforcement officers retracted their false accusation.

4) Illegally Harvesting Timber (isn't hyperbole a wonderful thing) - But our over-ambitious crew only cut three scruffy six foot tall evergreens (one with a broken top) in a clear-cut.  They wanted to send all of us to jail for this.  If this offence warrants jail time, then the BC Government better starting building hundreds of new prisons.

5) Stealing Equipment from the Skookum Independent Power Project - After making this stern accusation, the Squamish enforcement officers were a little embarrassed to find out that the volunteer trail building crew had formal permission to utilize this equipment from three separate managers/owners of the Skookum IPP.  Oops.

6) Disturbing a fish-bearing stream - Apparently we committed a grave violation by spreading woodchips into Paranoid Creek with a hand axe.  Too bad the terrain above the fallen log and the dam below make this creek devoid of spawning fish.  Of course the enforcement officers didn't provide any such resistance regarding fish disturbance with regards to the two separate Independent Power Project dams downstream.  After all, woodchips from a hand axe are clearly so much more devastating to a river than a series of dams that were given the full blessing of Government and the Ministry of Forest and Lands.

I heard through the grape vine that enforcement officer Murray Watt posted a Trespass and Stop Work notice on the Logging Roads leading up to Paranoid Creek citing a 30 day appeal period (documents on this site).  Officer Watt conveniently failed to deliver the notices to the affected individuals (myself one of them) and entities, thus allowing the nearly entire 30 days to elapse before the relevant individuals and entities became aware of the notices (perhaps in the hope that the 30 days would lapse).  Upon being "called out" on this violation of due process, Mr. Watt quickly couriered the notices to the relevant parties, and the forest office acknowledged a "fresh start" to the 30-day period.  Hmmm.

We were ordered to remove our beloved Paranoid Creek Bridge and decommission the trail after the S2 logging spur upon threat of prison and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.  On our solemn march up the logging roads of the Skookum to perform this grim task, I discovered that the traditional rock cairn on the S2 logging Spur dating back to the 1990's had been violently kicked apart, and most of the historical flagging tape and markers had been removed.  I thought to myself, why did they feel the need to do this?  Enforcement officers such as Mr. Watt and BC Parks seemed so desperate to discredit our claim that the Darling Lake Trail was a Heritage Trail dating back to the 1990's or earlier, that they were willing to go so far as to destroy history.  Fortunately, photographic evidence of these historic features was taken before their destruction.

Once some of the dust had settled from all of this, we believed it was time to start clearing the roads again to keep the route from over-growing with that pesky red alder.  After all, under the forest act, individuals have the right to travel on and clear logging roads without the permission of the forest office gods.  Thus, officer Watt's posting the Trespass Notice and Stop Work Notice on a crown land logging road either reflected an ignorance of the act or a large overstretch of his authority.  At this time, the forest office also made attempts to restrict our road clearing activities to only five feet in width (this has no basis whatsoever in legislation or law).

I found out about Enforcement Officer Murray Watt's motion-activated cameras placed along the Darling Lake Trail through several sources.  At first I thought it was a joke.  If only Mr. Watt had placed his cameras in the major trailhead parking areas of Garibaldi Park, he may have been able to save individuals and taxpayers thousands of dollars from the multiple vehicle break-ins occurring at the same time that summer.  The notion of cameras in the woods is in many ways contrary to every value that I hold sacred.  We go to the wilderness to find peace and solace.  When I reflect upon the the vision of the founders of Garibaldi Park and speculate as to their reaction to this Orwellian style future, I can only imagine their utter disgust and condemnation of the actions of Mr. Watt, the Forest Office and BC Parks.

Over the summer of 2015, both BC Parks rangers and multiple forest officers would perform numerous site visits of the Darling Lake Trail; going over it with a fine toothcomb to find all the things us evil trail builders did wrong.  Upon hearing the pleas of BC Parks for funding in 2016, I felt disgusted.  There seemed to be plenty of resources to harass us volunteer trail builders like criminals.  I am starting to think that Squamish officials are modeling themselves after U.S. Government marshals or the FBI.

In an attempt to reach a compromise, we rewrote the Darling Lake Section 57 application and resubmitted it as the Paranoid Creek Falls Section 57 application; with no trail to the lake and no bridge across Paranoid Creek.  Surely this wouldn't be too much to ask would it?  We were promised it would be given a fresh un-biased consideration by officials.  Now the Darling Lake Trail had been reduced to a paultry two hundred meters of footpath.

But even this modest application was flatly rejected.  I later discovered that mountain bikers had been granted over 120 section 57 applications in the same region alone.  Gondola Operators and Resort Operators have of late received a speedy and pain free track approval for their machine carved trails.  Being that according to the forest office's own list, there are less than 10 approved section 57 hiking trails in the area (, and applications for new hiking trails, such as the Paranoid Falls Trail, seem to involve a litany of roadblocks as presented by the forest office, how can this process be considered unbiased?  Ridiculously, the forest office has cited the proliferation of mountain bike trails as a reason to be restrictive on the number of hiking trails.  Could it be that hikers and mountaineers are treated as the bottom of the barrel?

I have been left with a sense that the bureaucrats involved in the Darling Lake Trail fiasco have treated us, the traditional guardians of the park (and taxpaying citizens) very, very badly.  When you are told "no" by government officials, and those reasons are based on blatant falsehoods, it is a difficult pill to swallow.

There are only two choices left for a person when faced with this kind of injustice, hypocrisy, bias, false accusations and bullying.  The first option is to give up and walk away.  The other, is to do as we have done at  

The time has come to take a stand against the moral rot within the provincial government, BC Parks and the Ministry of Forests and Lands.  The time for compromise is over.  Is it time to take Garibaldi Park back from commercial interests, Government and BC Parks, and return it into the hands of its rightful owners - the citizens of this province.  

Update 2016:  To the credit of the forest office, they recently repealed the Trespass Notice and acknowledged that their actions may have been overblown and out of proportion.  I can't help but wonder if there are some BC Parks officials who may have serious regrets and even sadness upon reading this story and hearing our point of view.  To them I say, it is never too late to ease your conscience.

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