Since summer is long gone and the homeowners on Karley Crescent got what they so desperately wanted (less traffic on their street in the summer months), it’s time to talk about what is going to happen with the Crystal Falls trail in Coquitlam, BC.
It has now been closed for close to a year. It’s been almost a year without public access to the (formerly) most accessible waterfall trail in the entire lower mainland. A trailhead that has a bus stop down the street and a skytrain station 20 minutes away by foot. A trail that is easy enough for almost anyone to do, with very little elevation changes. This is a serious loss for the many thousands of people that used to frequent this trail, myself included.
I’m a physically disabled hobbyist nature photographer. I used to live an 8 minute walk from the Crystal Falls trailhead. My disability limits the types of hikes I am able to complete, and this trail is (was?) easy enough for me to do at least once a week with a spectacular payoff at the end. This is why it is so important for this trail to reopen. Not just for me, but for anyone like me. Those that may not be in the best physical shape or who want to get into better physical shape. Those with small children who can’t do long, strenuous hikes. Those without the money to own or rent a car to access nature and who rely on public transit. Those who are differently abled and need an easier option to explore nature. Access to nature is a human right.
To put it bluntly, most (if not all) of the homeowners on Karley Crescent are wealthy. Every house on that street is worth at least a million dollars. This makes it, quite literally, a rich versus poor situation. Because the party most affected by trails like this closing are the lesser fortunate. Someone wealthy enough to own a car can just drive to the next nearest waterfall trail, but financially challenged people can’t. And speaking of cars, the congestion issues that inspired the trail closure were caused by those that drove to the trailhead instead of taking transit or walking. I never once parked at the trailhead and yet I’m being punished because of those that did. Same with anyone else who used alternate methods of transportation. We need more public access to nature, not less. This is a devastating loss of access for those that need it most.
This entire situation is reminiscent of what happened with Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake in the Nicola Valley here in BC, just on a smaller scale. An American billionaire ranch owner petitioned the courts to restrict access to two public lakes that were surrounded by his private land. The lakes/water are public property which can be used by anyone, but the road leading to the lakes is private. You can technically still access the lakes via float plane, but you would have to be well off and very dedicated to do that. There has been a substantial public backlash about the court’s decision to restrict access to these prime fishing lakes, but for some reason the Crystal Falls trail closure has not received much backlash at all.
The waterfall on Crystal Falls trail is on crown land, free and accessible to anyone. But, the main trail passes through several private parcels of land on the way there. After failing to convince Coquitlam City Council to close the trailhead, the homeowners on Karley Crescent bypassed the official conflict resolution methods and complained directly to the landowners. Yes, these are two separate parties. The homeowners do not own the land the trail passes through, those landowners do not even live in the area. But, the homeowners managed to convince the landowners that they were in immediate danger of being sued by someone getting injured on the trail, so they allowed the homeowners to put up no trespassing signs on their land.
You can still technically access the waterfall by using a different route starting on Burke Mountain, but it is much more difficult, strenuous, and dangerous. It also borders a hunting club, which carries its own set of concerns. Why are we so outraged about a billionaire landowner cutting off easy access to public lakes, but we aren’t outraged about a group of millionaires doing the same thing to a public waterfall? This trail has existed for at least 5 decades, well before the houses on Karley Crescent even existed. They bought or built a house next to a trailhead, and now they’re upset that the trailhead is being used by too many people.
Imagine if someone bought a house next to an airport and tried to shut it down years later when there was more noise pollution from increased air traffic. Imagine if someone bought a house next to farmland and complained when the farming season began and it smelled like manure at their house. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Either way, I would be ecstatic to own a gigantic house next to an amazing trailhead. The homeowners complain about garbage being left on the trail and their street, but I would happily be out there several times a week, picking up the trash and trying to educate people on the ‘leave no trace’ philosophy. I would take pride in my neighborhood, and help to keep it clean AND accessible to all.
I have personally spoken to all parties involved, including the homeowners, landowners, and Mayor Richard Stewart himself to try to find a resolution, but nothing has come from it so far. I started a petition (https://change.org/CrystalFalls) that has now amassed over 600 signatures at the time of writing. I’ve stood on the street corner in the pouring rain holding a sign to bring attention to the matter. I’ve had the police called on me for peacefully protesting in front of the trailhead. I’m very passionate about and invested in this issue, and I hope to inspire more people to fight to keep nature accessible to everyone.
Let’s get this trail reopened.