The public can now cross the Backcountry Access Corridor in Cypress Provincial Park before 9 am

Over the past two seasons, a large contingent of the backcountry community has expressed frustration with the 11 pm to 9 am closure of the winter Backcountry Access Corridor (BAC) in Cypress Provincial Park.

This closure has been a problem for members of the public that wanted to get an early start so that they could make the most of the limited hours of winter daylight. The red line that I have drawn below shows the approximate location and length of the BAC. It is a short section of trail (approximately 150 meters long) across the flat area in between the two ski hills. Closing the BAC is equivalent to closing half of the park including the trails to Black Mountain and Bowen Lookout. Cypress Mountain Resort operates inside of the provincial park under a Park Use Permit and the BAC crosses their permit area.

Volunteers from many organizations have engaged with BC Parks and the resort over the past two years to try to come to a resolution. There have been countless meetings, discussions, and e-mail threads that have gone as high as the previous Minister of Environment and the previous and current presidents of Cypress Mountain Resort.

This issue has a lot of history. In 1988 there were protests and arrests in the park related to public access across this same piece of land in what became known as “the war in Cypress”.

The war in Cypress helped to lead to the creation of a special commission to address issues in the park. One of the key recommendations of the Williams Commission was:

This recommendation was accepted and became a part of the Park Use Permit as section 3.061:

In recent years there has been a disagreement over how the Park Use Permit should be interpreted and whether or not the corridor needed to remain open at all times. This led to the posting of a policy that the corridor would remain closed each morning until 9 am. The position of the outdoor community has been steadfast: Section 3.061 of the the Park Use Permit protects our right to access the park. The corridor must remain open.

With the resort opening for winter operations on Friday November 10th, there was an urgent need for the talks to come to a conclusion. It would be unacceptable for the closure to stretch into an additional season. It would be ludicrous to need to repeat civil disobedience to create a “war in Cypress II” so that a second commission could come to the same conclusion as the first commission.

Patience, persistence, and respectful discussions have paid off. On Thursday, November 9th, I have been notified that Cypress Mountain Resort will not be blocking people from travelling across the corridor before 9 am so long as they have the appropriate liability tag that can be picked up at the old lodge building. This is not the final chapter: The resort still has concerns about safety and operations management related to the corridor. In the coming months, the resort and BC Parks will need to work out a long-term solution that is mutually acceptable while still maintaining the obligation to the public to provide unhindered access to the park across the BAC.

We may now access the park early in the morning without concern for punishment or conflict. Note that the road will still remain closed to the public until 7 am but that is an entirely different can of worms.

This is a good time to emphasize the need for people to travel responsibly in the park. People die in this park on a regular basis. The proximity to the city can fool visitors into complacency but cliffs, avalanches, extreme weather, and complex topography are serious dangers in the winter season. Each person who crosses into the park is fully responsible for their own safety.

As a member of the public who relies on access to the parks for recreation and as a stand-alone advocate for improvements to BC Parks, I want to extend a special thanks to the many volunteers at the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC. That organization works tirelessly on many access issues across the province and they have been deeply involved in this issue — I encourage everyone to join one of the mountain clubs so that your membership fees can help to support the FMCBC. I also want to extend a huge thanks to Mel Turner. Mel worked with BC Parks for over 30 years and was closely involved in the park at the time of the first commission. His first-hand knowledge has been critical to the resolution of this issue. I also want to acknowledge that this important step forward comes in the first season that we are working with a new provincial government and a new president at Cypress Mountain Resort and I look forward to a productive working relationship going forward.

Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable winter season.

Steve Jones