To Daniel Collett, the Ashcroft slough is a national monument.
It is so important that Collett believes the public should have the right to use it – as they have since the days when it was an old wagon road. But there’s a hitch: to get to the slough, the public has to cross the Ashcroft Terminal industrial lands at Evans Road, which was gated off in April to limit access to the private property for safety reasons.
Terminal officials argue the gate is an added safety measure as it pursues a $28.2-million infrastructure expansion, which has put much of its land is under construction. But the gate means Collett and others now have to climb under a bridge beneath the railway tracks and over the river below the high water market to get to the slough, an arduous and dangerous trek for a lot of people.
“Access to this amazing place – it really should be a national monument – has been taken away and nothing has been given back,” Collett said. “There is no other place as beautiful and special near Ashcroft where people can go to take their dogs for a walk, go birding or sketch, which is what people do.”
Collett and other residents have formed the official Ashcroft Slough Society in an effort to lobby the Ashcroft Terminal and CN Rail to provide legal public access to the site. The society, which costs $5 annually to join, was formed, he said, to give people a voice, noting that while three residents sit on an Ashcroft Terminal working group to develop alternatives to riverfront access at the slough, they feel the “writing is on the wall.”
“(The society) is what the people of Ashcroft believe they need to stand up for their rights because the working group is already a stacked deck in favour of the terminal and what they want,” Collett said.
Kleo Landucci, the terminal’s chief commercial & corporate affairs officer, said in an emailed response to the Free Press, that the working group is looking at options.
Besides the society members, the working group includes a representative from Bonaparte Indian Band, two municipal appointees – one each from the Village of Ashcroft and the Village of Cache Creek and three Ashcroft Terminal employees. The group is co-chaired by Ashcroft Terminal’s assistant manager Patty Kinvig and former Ashcroft mayor Andy Anderson and includes two external consultants —one to facilitate the meetings and the other to provide technical guidance regarding planning and design.
A representative from CN Police and CP Police have also been invited to all meetings to provide information related to rail safety and federal regulations.
“From the outset, we have tried to communicate clearly that continued access through Ashcroft Terminal’s private property is not feasible, for reasons of safety and liability,” Landucci said. “I understand the Community Working Group continues to explore ways around these issues and are also discussing accessing the slough from below the high-water mark, which is land not owned by Ashcroft Terminal.”
She said the terminal is interested in supporting other recreational uses the community may find valuable, in lieu of continued access to the slough, noting it has been used by “a minority of residents for recreational purposes and we wanted to make a contribution in respect of that.”
The three highest-rated ideas being evaluated, she said, include enhanced walking trails in other areas in Ashcroft, alternative access to the slough and enhanced river access at a location other than the slough.
“Both CN security and Ashcroft Terminal employees have been asking people who are trespassing to leave the area for reasons of safety and liability,” Landucci said in the email. “We installed a gate for a few reasons: to limit access to pedestrians for safety and liability reasons, and because we are moving internal roads due to construction and Evans road will be rerouted and will no longer be a road through the property.”
However, Collett argues the slough is a special and unique place and there is nowhere like it in Ashcroft. A recent petition by the society collected upwards of 800 people this month in favour of reinstating public access to the slough, he said, noting the nearest walking trails of the same calibre are at Juniper Beach near Walhachin, a half-hour away.
“We’re very happy the terminal is there and they are going to be providing jobs for the people of Ashcroft,” Collett said, but added: “We want to create something that is safe so people will go there and not other places.”