Trailheads and parking areas for popular hikes in Lions Bay are being re-opened after a month of restricted access.
Lions Bay council voted Thursday to re-open the access points for local hikes for the first time since the trailheads were closed in August over concern about wildfire risk.
The decision reverses course on an Aug. 24 decision which closed the trailheads and parking areas for hikes after residents signed a petition expressing worries about fire risk in the forest.
Coun. Michael Broughton was one of the councillors who voted Thursday to re-open the trails.
Broughton said all the feedback council had received from the fire chief and emergency preparedness co-ordinators pointed to a lack of any reason to keep the trailheads closed.
On the contrary, the Lions Bay fire chief told council previously it’s a better idea to have hikers in the forest because they are most likely the first to spot any signs of trouble.
The fire chief told council during a presentation earlier this month that extreme fire conditions usually only happen when the temperature is over 30 degrees, and the humidity is less than 30 per cent.
Trailheads to several popular hikes, including Tunnel Bluffs, the west Lion, Centennial Trail, Brunswick Mountain and Mount Harvey start in Lions Bay.
According to the Ministry of Environment, BC Wildfire is responsible for closing areas due to wildfire risk - including Crown land and parks. The trailheads and parking areas, however, are on Lions Bay municipal land.
On Thursday, Lions Bay Mayor Ken Berry urged council to re-open the trailheads and parking area, stressing none of the experts, including the fire chief, had been in favour of closing the trails.
“We need to defer to the experts,” he said. “We’re not in extreme conditions.”
Not everyone was in favour of re-opening the trailheads, however.
One resident, Tamara Leger, tuned in to the meeting from her yard backing on to the forest. “It’s tinder dry up here,” she said, adding she doesn’t think there has been sufficient rain to douse the fire risk.
Coun. Marcus Reuter agreed, commenting, “It wouldn’t hurt anybody to be abundantly cautious.”
But Berry said council should take the advice of professionals.
“The trails should be open,” he said. “We shouldn’t have councillors or residents speculating on the weather.”
The debate about opening and closing hiking trails above Lions Bay takes place against a history of tensions between residents of the affluent community and Metro Vancouver hikers who regularly travel to Lions Bay, with residents voicing concerns about parking and traffic issues created by the large number of visitors.
Steve Jones, a North Vancouver outdoor advocate, said he’s glad to see the trails being re-opened.
“I think there’s been a bit of frustration that these access decisions aren’t being made based on science and aren’t being made in a consistent manner across the province,” he said.
Jones said ideally, decisions about when to close trailheads to the public would be based on clear guidelines.
He said thinning trees near to the community and putting other FireSmart practices in place would do more to improve fire safety than blocking trails to hikers.
“The reality is stopping people in rubber-soled hiking shoes from accessing a trail probably didn’t do anything to keep [Lions Bay] safe,” he said.