WALHACHIN — BC Parks doesn't expect problems at Juniper Brach this weekend, but will keep several rangers close by just in case.
Jeff Leahy, BC Parks regional director for the Thompson-Cariboo, stood at the park's gate during Friday's noon hour and stopped people as they drove up. He told them the park was closed until Monday. Several signs indicated the same.
Some of the campers asked Leahy's staff if they could guarantee their safety during the weekend, he said. They were told that would be hard to do if 300 people showed up.
"We've been in contact with the RCMP. We're working with the RCMP. If an incident does happen, we're not afraid to call them," said Leahy.
The first two First Nations — including organizer Steve Basil of the Bonaparte band — arrived at 1 p.m. There were a half dozen at the camp by late Friday afternoon. Basil told The Daily News he expected most of his guests to arrive late Friday or today
Leahy spoke with Basil and understands he wants it to be a great experience for everyone.
"I don't anticipate we'll have any problems," he said.
But there will be three to five rangers at Juniper Beach per shift, he said. Shifts will run seven hours and continue through the weekend as needed.
"We're dealing with an unknown. We have no idea how many people will show up," he said.
Some Juniper Beach campers say BC Parks rangers sparked uneasiness by suggesting they couldn't guarantee safety during this weekend's First Nations gathering at the provincial campsite.
"They told every one of us. They scared a lot of people away," said Sharon Smith of Ashcroft.
Smith and her husband, Steve, were one of five families who remained at the campsite at noon Friday — the deadline BC Parks had set to close the site for a First Nations cultural event.
The park was almost full Thursday night when the rangers encouraged people to leave. The small group that remained Friday morning had no intention of leaving unless things turned ugly.
"I'm sure it will be fine," she said.
Campers were asked to stay at nearby Steelhead and Tunkwa provincial campsites free of charge because the experience might be more enjoyable, said Leahy.
Mark Davy brought his wife and two children from Chilliwack because the family had a nice stay at Juniper Beach last year. He was shocked when he saw the signs saying the campsite would be closed for the weekend, he said.
"It totally blindsided me," said Davy.
But there's no way he's going anywhere else, especially after his family planned on the trip for weeks.
"I'm staying. There's no way I'm going," he said.
Iain Mitchell of Ashcroft was going to leave, but decided against it. He wants to see how everything plays out.
"I hate to go home and feel like I'm backing out," said Mitchell.
Standing with a traditional eagle-feather staff, Basil said he'd have preferred the First Nations had the park to themselves, but he's more than willing to accommodate the campers.
He said the ceremonies— including one to honour ancestral remains recently found in the area — are private and asked the non-aboriginals to keep a respectful distance.
The timing of the event is crucial as it's tied to the start of the salmon run and utilizes what he says is a traditional meeting and food gathering spot.
Basil said the gathering is drug and alcohol free.