On a Friday evening, several cars pull into the small parking lot of the O’Connor Lake Recreation Site south of Port McNeill. A group of young people light a crackling fire and listen to music sprawled on a blanket. They eat dinner and enjoy some drinks on the grassy lawn by the lake. The scene has all the ingredients for a rowdy night in the making, but by 9:30 p.m. the dying fire and a few bottles lying on the grass are all that linger at the site as the cars hastily pull out of the parking lot, perhaps taking the young people home in time for curfews.
Just outside Port Hardy is Beaver Lake Recreation Area. There is a calm lake with seven stone-grey picnic tables, a fire pit, and a partially-submerged raft. White daisies dot the long grass, and a confetti-like collection of wet tissues, earplugs and empty food wrappers dots the daisies. Garbage is clearly visible, but a single garbage can is not.
Twenty-three kilometres south down the Port Alice Road is the Marble River Recreation Site. Mid-afternoon a family is finishing a picnic lunch on a table and taking the remnants in a plastic bag back to their car. Not everyone using public areas is as respectful of packing out what they bring in, as a mound of garbage deposited in a nearby bush suggests. Visitors to these sites should undisputedly be practising responsible site usage and packing out what they bring in. The reality is that not everyone does. It could be argued that more garbage receptacles at these sites would encourage some people to throw out their garbage and treat these sites with more respect. According to some individuals closely involved in the care of these sites however, this is a surprisingly complex issue as having garbage receptacles can actually create different kinds of problems.
Greg Fletcher, administrator for the Regional District of Mount Waddington (RDMW), explains that sites on the Alice Lake Loop Recreational Corridor are operated and maintained through a partnership between the RDMW, Recreation Trails and Sites BC and Western Forest Products (WFP), including Marble River, Beaver Lake, Kathleen Lake and Devil’s Bath. Representatives from each of the three involved groups have noted that the partnership has been very successful.
Duncan Mactavish, district recreation officer for Recreation Sites and Trails BC (Discovery Coast) explains that sites are divided into three groupings: fee sites that are managed and where users are paying for a service, like Clint Beek, non-fee sites that are also managed, and user-maintained sites that are not actively managed apart from facility upgrades when needed.
Fletcher explains that some of the Alice Lake Loop sites were an obligatory part of WFP’s tree farm licence back when they were created. The district enters into a contract to help care for the sites from June until Labour Day.
The district takes care of their own sites year-round, but these specific Alice Lake Loop ones, depend on provincial funding to offset the cost of care. Kindry Mercer, regional engagement officer for WFP, says that throughout the year WFP provides a range of maintenance on the sites including identifying dangerous trees and felling them, but that during the on-season it is maintained by Recreational Trails and Sites BC and the RDMW. Mactavish says that they provide garbage pick-up at some fee sites, but the majority are pack in, pack out. Fletcher and Mactavish both note the extremely large time commitment it would take to have garbage pick-up at many sites, especially when driving time to and between sites is considered.
Fletcher says that a major reason these sites do not have garbage disposal is that in the past when there were more garbage disposal units they would be filled to the brim with household waste, garbage that bore little resemblance to the typical waste accumulated from a few nights of camping or a picnic. Mercer echoes this, saying that historically when there were more garbage receptacles at sites, they ended up being full of waste that did not seem to have any relation to site use. Mactavish says that this was a major problem at Beaver Lake in particular.
Another issue that involved parties have noted is the need for bear-proof containers in these areas. Fletcher says that “the issue is who will provide the bear-proof containers,” and that if sites do not have them then garbage needs to be picked up very frequently to minimize problems.
Leaving garbage receptacles full for extended periods of time can be dangerous for both bears and people.
The obvious solution may then appear to be bear-proof containers at every site, yet cost is a huge impediment with a single bear bin costing around $2,500, not including the cost of installation. Mactavish says that their budget is already quite tight, and that he would prefer to use funds for things that help improve sites-instead of counteracting user littering – things like repairing and upgrading old infrastructure like rotting picnic tables.
There is the additional issue of site usage outside the June-Labour Day period that the RDMW’s contract runs for. During warm spring days and even during this unusually mild past winter, people still use these sites, and one party of people neglecting to treat a site with respect can quickly leave it riddled with trash.
Fletcher acknowledges this and says that they may be open to discussing contracts starting earlier in the spring, but that an extension like this would depend on provincial funding. This absence of garbage receptacles at some of these sites seems on its face to be counter intuitive to their care and maintenance. Upon further investigation however, it seems like the lack of waste disposal has been deemed necessary to deal with other behaviours and wildlife management.
The message is clear – whether or not there is a place to deposit garbage, it should not be left by users at the scenic sites that dot this region.