Bouncing along the silt bluff above the South Thompson River in Valleyview, cyclists are surprised to find a road cut through to the beach, severing the Jack Gregson Trail.
“Danger, danger, danger,” said Reece Williams, a longtime cyclist, who nearly plunged into the gap. “Where’s the flagging? It’s unsafe!”
Lee Kenney, another off-road cyclist, wondered as well.
“Somebody has cut a trench down from the property to the water,” he said, alerting The Daily News. “Nobody with the City knows about it.”
Ditto for the B.C. Ministry of Environment and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, known for its rigid enforcement of the Fisheries Act. Neither one could offer any explanation of the riverbank activity.
Even Tk’emlups Chief Shane Gottfriedson was surprised to look across from the band’s administration office and see a swath excavated down to the beach.
The temporary road, as it turns out, is to facilitate bank stabilization undertaken by landowner Tom Vicars. Last year’s flood waters eroded the bank.
“We lost a little bit last year, so we’re trying to protect it,” said Vicars, whose family has owned the property for years. He said he’s gone through the permitting process and intends to work with the band’s cultural resource management department, which will supervise the job from an archeological standpoint.
Yet Vicars was adamant: “There is no trail along there.”
He pointed out that there is a trail diversion, which skirts the Emterra recycling plant on Kelly Douglas Road, and a sign clearly marks where private property begins. He knows people use the trail anyway, but is concerned about legal liability.
“They’re not supposed to. It is private property and it’s industrial. Those cyclists, they are where they’re not supposed to be.”
And that’s not the only ambiguous aspect of the trail named in memory of Jack Gregson.
The trail is named for the late entomologist and outdoorsman, who tended flowers and seeded shrubs along the trail near his home. A sign is posted at the trailhead, but that’s not the start of the trail, said Jack’s son John, who still lives on the property.
A second sign, marred by graffiti, is the proper trail marker. That one stands across from a private property sign, a passive attempt to divert people around industrial properties through a smelly, garbage-strewn, rat-infested egress behind the recycling plant. Another City trail sign still stands next to the swath cut down to the river, adding to confusion.
“There is some nice beach access in there and a fair amount of wildlife, but it has ceased to be an enjoyable walk,” noted Doug Smith of the Kamloops Trails Alliance.
The route was once an alternate path to Valleyview and was recognized by the City in some of its publications, he said. For a number of years there was a dispute with one property owner over the west-end access.
Around the same time, high water eroded the bank and destabilized the trail. Then Emterra expanded its operation — recycling can be a messy business when the wind picks up — and squatters left other messes. People party on the beach and sculpt figures in the bank, which doesn’t help to preserve it, either. The trees buzz in the wind from plastic bags snagged in their limbs.
It’s a sad legacy for Jack Gregson, who founded Kamloops Outdoor Club back in the 1930s. The City is well aware of the situation but doesn’t want to block off the old trail.
“We’ve never taken that approach,” said Michael Doll, the City’s parks planning supervisor. “We know it’s an important route for people.”
The City has no intention of closing the route, Doll said. Even if a fence were to be installed, people would bypass it, he said. There are other footpaths around Kamloops with similar, unofficial status.
“It’s on private property, so it’s there, but we don’t necessarily promote and encourage people to use it. It’s not a pleasant place at all.”
Trying to be pro-active, the City leaves a garbage can next to the trail sign. Trail users stash tools in order to maintain the trail themselves.
Kenney, long a cycling advocate, said he finds it frustrating that no one seems to take responsibility for the trail. He finds government indifference to riverbank work troubling and possibly a symptom of weakened environmental protection.
DFO spokespeople called back on Friday to say that their authorization is not required because the work won’t have an effect on fish habitat.
Kenney’s watched as the area has deteriorated, partly through neglect. The path should have become part of the Rivers Trail system, but land-use conflicts prevented that.
“I think it should be preserved and made an example of river awareness,” he said. “You’re got to be aware of the river and its importance to Kamloops. It’s the reason why Kamloops was settled.”