For over 100 years Rosslanders have been making the trek north to the hills of the Rossland Range to recreate and commune with the country.
It has been Rossland’s playground for generations, a veritable cornucopia of backcountry bliss, baptizing wanna-be Rosslanders and compelling them to move to the city to mine the diamonds of the magical mountains.
People have enjoyed skiing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and hiking the terrain of the Rossland Range for years, eliciting a groundswell from the community and visitors alike to place very high value on the terrain and the chain of small day-use shelters that dot it around the Nancy Greene Pass.
And for a good chunk of that time Rosslanders have been trying to convince the provincial government to also recognize the value of the range, not just as a playground for the locals, but as a major attraction in keeping Rossland viable.
People move here because of the hills north of the city and the quality of what they find in those hills, said Les Carter, a member of the Friends of Rossland Range Society (FORRS). And it was with that sentiment that FORRS—a registered non-profit society with a significant history of stewardship of natural and community interests—was formed several years ago to find a way to protect and preserve the area in the face of significantly increasing usage.
“It doesn’t feel comfortable, as part of your recreational experience, to wonder if you are going to lose it. So there has always been this pressure to do something,” Carter said.
For over 10 years FORRS has tried several avenues to find protection for the Rossland Range without success, but a new chute has opened that could see the range achieve the status this November that people have longed for.
FORRS now seeks non-exclusive recreational site designation for a series of trails and public use shelters in higher elevations of the Rossland Range between the Red Mountain controlled Recreation Area and Big Red Cats commercial recreational tenure.
Under the Forest and Range Practices Act, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations (MFLNRO) could create the designation for FORRS that does not exclude others using it, but does provide a “layer of information” and regulations, acknowledging the province and the community think the land is valuable. If granted, the province would give FORRS permission to construct, rehabilitate or maintain trails or other recreation facilities in the proposed recreation site area. It would also permit designated areas for recreational sites.
The proposed recreational sites are winter day-use shelters, with many are already in place (around eight). The proposal does not include specific plans for new shelters, or suggest that new shelters are contemplated.
The province would likely impose certain conditions considered necessary or desirable for public safety and to protect the natural environment. There are 21 rules to regulate the day-use shelters (huts), in construction and usage. As well, firewood used in the shelters is to be wind-throw or dead-and-down timber only.
Within the zone if a cabin is a problem, the community would deal with it, said Carter.
“One of the reasons for the recreation site is to impose some order on this instead of just going totally haywire,” he said. “This is the platform … to do the job right.”
FORRS has a co-operative relationship with the Kootenay Columbia Trails Society (KCTS), which manages the provincially-designated trails within the area. KCTS supports the proposal, and expects to assist in implementing it, including maintenance on the huts.
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary board of directors has also advised the MFLNRO that the application is supported by regional government, including the City of Rossland.
Not only does the city support the application it is engaged with FORRS in the planning process surrounding the application.
In 2010, the electoral Area B Advisory Planning Commission and the RDKB planning and development committee confirmed support of the application.
The proposal does not include specific plans for any trails. The application noted that most of the trail use envisioned is winter use (backcountry skiing and snowshoeing) which generally do not require established trails.
The key element in the new application, said Carter, is acknowledging the province’s policy that designation as a recreation site would not inhibit the activities of logging. The recreation site is intended to have minimal impact on forestry, and to be managed in cooperation with the forest tenure holder. In addition, any mining activities in the range are subject to provincial oversight and regulation.
The area of the proposed facility includes sufficient land to allow the diverse users of the range to co-exist, said Carter, particularly as they relate to protecting the largely sub-alpine forest zone and its ecosystems from over-use by recreationalists.
The current proposal was developed through a lengthy process of consultation with users, stakeholders, local government and the community, culminating in a public workshop May 20, 2010.
It builds on a very long history of community and provincial agency concern for multiple-value planning and management in the Rossland Range, said Carter, beginning with the efforts of local residents such as Nancy Greene’s father to have the core of the range made into a park.
Those concerns have also been reflected over time in the creation of the Nancy Greene Recreation Area (now deleted), the recreational objectives in the MFLNRO’s Nancy Greene Highlands Forest Management Plan, and MFLNRO’s current recreational designation of some of the range high country.
In processing the application over the next few months the province will serve notice to stakeholders and interested parties, likely inviting consultation with First Nations. Carter said an answer could be received from the province as early as November.
If accepted FORRS can then apply for grants from a number of funding sources.
Home on the range
The recreation site is located along the spine of the Rossland Range, between Red Mountain Resort’s controlled recreation area and Big Red Cats’ commercial recreational tenure.
From Red Mountain Resort to near Nancy Green Pass, the area’s easterly boundary is Highway 3B. In the Nancy Greene Pass area, it extends north and east of Highway 3B to include slopes of Mount Crowe to the west of Big Red Cats’ tenure.
The west boundary includes the sub-alpine zone of provincially designated trails (Seven Summits, Old Glory) and includes enough of the northwest ridge of Mount Lepsoe to buffer the Seven Summits trail and the winter-use trails south and west of Nancy Greene Pass.
The range includes the headwaters of several creeks, a number of important riparian zones, and at least one significant wetland. These areas will be inventoried, and will be of special concern in plans to manage recreational use of the area.
Back to the future
The proposed recreation tenure area has a long history of recreation use, which has been primarily non-motorized. The area is easily accessible from a maintained public highway, and popular with all age groups.
Presently, users of the area have come to a general understanding that non-motorized activities take place on the west side of Highway 3B and motorized uses take place on the east side of the highway.
The area also has long history of timber harvest and mineral exploration. ATCO Wood Products of Fruitvale holds the timber license in the range.
Some of the proposed area is within the City of Rossland Watershed Zone. This area is primarily within the boundaries of the City of Rossland. However, a small portion of the headwaters is in regional district electoral Area B.
Permitted uses in the Rural Resource 3 designation may include forestry, natural resource management, conservation and related land uses, campground and passive recreation.
The recreation site designation would preserve the ski huts locally built years ago by Booty Griffiths, for the community to ski up to and enjoy the backcountry.
At one time the Ministry of Forests was going to tear the original cabin down but the community protested. The province relented and said the community could keep the cabin as long as it was for public use and the name “Booty’s Cabin” was dropped.
So, to get even, Booty and his friends went out and built more cabins, said Carter.
“Those became, just like the Rossland Range, an attractive feature for the public and everyone goes there and skis,” he said.