The long, winding road that leads to the door of Golden Ears Provincial Park was closed for a total of about 10 weeks last winter, when winter blasted Metro Vancouver for three solid months.
This year, the road closed on Dec. 19 – when heavy rain turned into ice – and it hasn’t re-opened since.
But usually, given the more typical mild winters, the park is closed only for about a total of two weeks because of winter weather.
This year’s road closing have prompted readers to comment about why the road can’t stay open year round.
But that’s because the Ministry of Environment doesn’t fund winter road maintenance, explained Stu Burgess, with Alouette Park Management, the contractor that operates the park.
“I would love to keep this road open if we had the budget to do it. There’s no budget in our agreement with the Ministry of Environment.”
Burgess said the road is closed whenever road conditions are unsafe – either because of heavy snow, black ice or rain or storms.
The only way to ensure the road remains open would be to contract a road maintenance company to bring in plows and salt and sand trucks to clear the road any time conditions get bad.
The task is complicated by the narrow width of the road and lack of space to store the plowed snow.
Burgess admits, though, the road could be kept open, like any other mountain road, if there was a desire to do so.
However, it’s not like the interior of the park is a winter playground. Most winters, there just isn’t that much snow that would allow development of winter tourism, such as a cross-country or snowshoeing business.
“There’s just insufficient amounts of snow each year on a regular basis to support that, I would think,” said Burgess, who added that a cost-benefit analysis would be needed to see if it’s worth paying to keep the road open year round.
“As a park operator, we hate to see people not able to use the park,” he added. “We get lots of comments … they’re asking us why we can’t drive up there.”
While the road at the south end of the park can be clear, at the north end there could be 10 centimetres of snow on the road.
“There are areas of the road that get absolutely no sunshine at all and they stay wet all winter long.”
When temperatures, drop, it’s a perfect recipe for black ice.
He said if the ministry decided to keep the road open, it would be far cheaper to just contract the plowing, and salting and sanding to an existing maintenance company instead of Alouette gearing up to do that.
The road is about 11 kilometres long from the main gate into the camp area and about seven kilometres from the gate into the beach area at Alouette Lake reservoir.
However, if the main gates are closed, there are still about 50 parking spaces nearby where people can park and hike into the park.
Last winter, the road and park was closed for total of about two and a half months, as heavy snow kept pummeling Metro Vancouver from December to February leaving about 40 centimetres of snow on the road.
While the park has to close in the winter because of weather, it also has to close in the summer because of good weather, when too many people from Vancouver jam the picnic and parking areas.
Each year, summertime crowds grow, said Burgess. On three separate days last summer, more than 3,300 cars passed through the gates and there was no place for them to park.
If crowding gets extreme, the gate will be closed until numbers drop.
Geoff Clayton, a former Maple Ridge resident and president of Alouette River Management Society, said the road used to be open year round before the Liberals were elected in 2001.
He used to park in Gold Creek parking lot and cross-country ski to the upper falls and back.
“The poor working class should have access to this park up to the end of the park road and this government should be lobbied to open the gate to a well-maintained road access as it was the last time they were in power,” Clayton said.
Another reader suggested that pay parking be brought back to the park with the money used for park maintenance.