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Response to “Madness on the Mudflats”

ATVs, shotguns, parties and fatalities: ‘Lawlessness abounds’ at Stave Lake mudflats near Mission

It is always interesting giving interviews to the media for stories being written on topics like Stave Lake and motorized recreation. One never knows the slant that the story will be written. Case in point is today’s Province story ‘Madness on the Mudflats’.

In the spirit of complete transparency, here are the questions from the reporter and my answers.

“First of all, can you just tell me a bit about Stave Lake?”

Stave Lake is the most popular motorized recreation area in British Columbia. Burma Road and Florence Lake Forest Service Road (FSR) are, by far, the busiest FSR in the province recording well over 1/2 million vehicle trips per year. A simple breakdown says that an average weekend sees 10,000 vehicle trips over 3 days. This equates to a small town on most weekends every year.

Stave is the nearest FSR to the bulk of the urban population on the north side of the Fraser River and sees about 80 percent of it’s traffic from Maple Ridge and the District of Mission. The other 20 percent generally comes from points further west like Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Burnaby, Vancouver and New Westminster.

The main attraction to four wheel drive users at Stave are the mud flats at Rocky Point. Being a dammed lake, when the water is drawn down, the mud flats are exposed. Hundreds of people camp on these flats in motorhomes, trailers, campers and tents every weekend and play in the mud with four wheel drive vehicles, quads and motorcyles as well as recreate using boats. Stave has seen recreationalists arrive in planes and helicopters too. Historically, activity around Stave Lake has been largely left unregulated, which is very desirable to a great many people who want to escape the stifling environment of the city.

“How would you describe the atmosphere at Stave Lake when there’s a big party like last weekend’s “Mudder’s Day” event? Are there some gatherings at Stave that are bigger than Mudder’s Day? What’s it like when it’s really busy?”

The atmosphere at Stave is always very upbeat. The vast majority of motorized recreationalists at Stave are hard working family people who love to play as hard as they work. The demographics of those who go to Stave cross the spectrum from labour, trades, service industries and professional folks as well.

Mudder’s Day was a Mother’s Day event crossed with the favourite pass time of those who frequent Stave, enjoying the absolute stunning beauty of Stave Lake on the flats while playing in the mud or watching others play in the mud. It has always been an outdoors tradition to have a fire, gather around it, share stories, friendships and laughs perhaps enjoying a beverage. Out on the flats, this activity doesn’t get much safer but unfortunately, bylaws restrict open burns now without consideration of context.

An event like this draws thousands! To those who are outside of this crowd and perhaps has never recreated at Stave, it could be intimidating. Those outside of this environment tend to blend the bad actions of the few with the perceived actions of the majority. However, if you spend some time with these folks, you will find they are like most others and are generally helpful, decent people.

Other events held at Stave are much larger than this. The Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau holds an annual toy run there. That event draws well over 10,000 people and collects a lot of toys for disadvantaged kids and raises a ton of money. Wheelers embraced this event and have made it one of the most successful toy runs that I am aware of.

“The RCMP told us that 4WDABC members are a big help in keeping the area clean and safe — can you please tell me about the work the association’s members have done there over the years?”

I have attached a document that speaks well to this question. I will note that we have performed annual cleanups of West Stave Lake for the last 15 years removing well over 300,000 pounds of garbage and steel that have been dumped there. I will also note that in my experience in volunteering in these cleanups, there are 5 main sources of garbage. They are residential dumping, commercial dumping, grow op waste, target shooting garbage and school party garbage. Other than that, some have pallet fires which are really hard on tires and frowned upon by motorized recreationalists, and you will find empty beverage containers of the lazy.

“Is Stave Lake getting busier in recent years? Or is it getting quieter? ”

Stave Lake is definitely getting busier over the last 15 years. It started with access losses to four wheel drive recreation in Maple Ridge with the gate closures blocking access to Blue Mountain. This sent most if not all four wheelers from Maple Ridge and west to Stave. Urban growth has contributed the rest and as Stave Lake is the closest area, it sees the vast majority of day trips.

Notably though, in my view, Stave is not as wild as it once was. The area is fairly well self regulated but does see the same types of criminal activity that we see in our neighbourhoods like stolen vehicles, illegal dumping, theft, vandalism, impaired driving and sometimes assaults. Again, my sense is that it is no more common there than in our neighbourhoods in the urban setting.

“Is the garbage situation getting better or worse? ”

The garbage situation has improved over the last couple of years but the situation fluctuates. This could be because our cleanups are dragging up older, harder to reach garbage so we’re playing ‘catch up’ for previous decades when little work was done about the garbage situation.

“The RCMP told us that the 4WDABC members are the kinds of good, responsible visitors they want to see at Stave Lake — but they also told us that some visitors are driving dangerously and causing problems and safety risks… Have you noticed much dangerous driving/reckless behaviour? Is there more of that in recent years? Or is it more calm recently?”

I have seen drunk drivers and I have seen reckless behaviour. Unfortunately, it is mostly our youth that participate in this on the FSR’s. In an unregulated environment, some have difficulty managing themselves and get carried away with drinking too much, and frankly being to young! My sense is that this happens less in the last decades similar again to our cities where this behaviour has declined. If you cite RCMP statistics of ticketing on Mudder’s Day, you will see very few charges given the numbers of people there.

“What about illegal shooting? Is that mostly a problem on the East side of Stave Lake? Is it getting worse?”

Most of the shooting activity at Stave Lake happens north of 18 kilometers where it is legal to discharge firearms at targets. I wouldn’t say that firearm discharge is that bad up West Stave but I do hear of occasional incidents of unsafe usage. I think there is less target shooting in the West Stave area as opposed to a decade ago. Most of this activity happens on the east side of Stave on Lost Creek FSR or south of the river in the Chilliwack River Valley. As a member of the Chilliwack Recreation Advisory Group, I hear regular concerns shared about target shooting in the Chilliwack River Valle.

“I know some of the ATV riders and 4×4 drivers who were at Stave Lake last weekend for Mudders Day, some of them felt that the RCMP were heavy-handed in the way they dealt with the crowds — some of the Mudders Day visitors criticized the police for the way they approached people… do you think the police handled the situation well? Do you think they are sometimes a little heavy-handed in their enforcement actions lately? Or do they generally do a good job of keeping people safe and handling the crowds?”

From my view, the RCMP did a reasonable job given the situation that I have viewed. It must be a very difficult environment for compliance and enforcement and I suspect with so many people it would be intimidating for the officers. I wouldn’t say their actions were or are heavy handed but I suspect that Stave isn’t the environment for ‘ask, tell, make’ policing.

I believe what the motorized community would like to see for policing in the West Stave area, or any area for that matter, is for more personal and engaging policing. If the police could use open faced helmets so that people view them as people first. If the police would recreate a bit along side of others, chat, get to know people and the varied contexts of what is taking place, I believe that they would become allies of all the good that does exist at Stave. I think this kind of soft policing would turn the majority to their side and people would lend their insights and assistance to effect a better environment for all.

– Kim Reeves

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