The Recreation Order, which was first introduced last year, is still restricting camping access and motorized recreation in the larger Koocanusa area.

Originally implemented April 8th, 2020, the B.C. Government issued the Recreation Order under Section 58 of The Forest and Range Practices Act to limit social gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic and protect the environment by restricting camping and motorized recreation.

A spokesperson with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development provided a statement to MyEastKootenayNow.com about the ongoing restrictions.

“This Order is made to address public health and safety concerns regarding the spread of the COVID-19 virus and aims to discourage social gatherings and regional travel of public recreationists,” said the Ministry. “This Order is also made to protect environmental values and to enable regulation of public recreation use of the area and is consistent with direction provided by the current Koocanusa Recreation Strategy.”

“Motorized recreation is only allowed on designated roads and trails and camping is allowed in designated sites within the closure area.”

MORE: Koocanusa Recreation Strategy (Koocanusa Recreation)

This week, activity was noticed in the area by local residents, as concrete barriers and blocks were being installed to block off roads that are not accessible to the public, as part of the Recreation Order.

Crews installing concrete barriers and blocks in the Koocanusa Recreation Management Area on March 30th, 2021. (Supplied by Chris Inglis, Facebook)

Tom Shypitka, MLA for Kootenay East said he was part of the Koocanusa Recreation Strategy Committee back in 2014 when he was sitting on the RDEK (Regional District of East Kootenay), while also contributing as an MLA over the years as well. Shypitka said while the Recreation Order is vitally important to deter gatherings and protect the environment, he is still questioning the large closures.

“What we heard back last year at this time was that it was COVID-related, and we need to address the mud bogs issue, which I agreed with. We were in our first wave of the pandemic, we didn’t know what we were getting hit with and an influx of three to five thousand people during a couple of long weekends when the pandemic was hitting us was obviously not in all of our best interests,” Shypikta told MyEastKootenayNow.com. “I agreed, I said okay, well that’s a tool that we can use. I was assured at that point that we’d be coming back online with recreation use in June, at the end of the May long weekend, that wasn’t the case.”

Sign in the Koocanusa Recreation Management Area detailing the rules of the Recreation Order. (Supplied by Chris Inglis, Facebook)

Now a year later, the Recreation Order still remains in effect and until further notice from the B.C. Government. Shypitka said he doesn’t want to underscore the environmental issues and the need for the management plan but feels a blanket closure isn’t a long-term solution.

“I’m not pointing fingers here but you would think that after seven years of crunching this down and trying to come up with a good management plan, the best that we got is to lock it down and I don’t think that good land management necessarily means land closure. There is a lot of very frustrated local residents on this issue, it’s our own backyard and it’s been taken away and of course, nobody is happy with it.”

On the flip side, there is also public support for the closures, noting concerns with mudbogging practices at Koocanusa, illegal dumping of garbage, and unauthorized camping, all of which have been noted issues over the last several years.

While the Recreation Order does strongly restrict land access, it isn’t a full closure of Koocanusa, with designated recreation sites identified on a map from the B.C. Government, and still allowing for day-use.

MORE: Map of Restricted Recreation Use in Koocanusa (B.C. Government)

“People are still coming to our corner of the Province to recreate so displacement is a major concern. I talked to Forest Wardens last year, they said they had never seen anything quite like it, and I dare it’s going to be the same thing this year where people are going to venture out outside the designated closure areas and make their own campsites and have probably a more devastating impact on the environment, just trying to get some form of recreation,” added Shypitka.

“We’ve been told to stay home, recreate, use the outdoors and here we are, the only place in British Columbia mind you that has this Section 58 in place that says don’t go outside, don’t enjoy the outdoors that we’re traditionally used to.”

Shypitka said he would like to see stronger enforcement for those that break the rules and believes the B.C. Government isn’t focusing enough on enforcement, and would rather allow the public to still enjoy the area responsibly.

The B.C. Ministry’s statement to MyEastKootenayNow.com said they are continuing to work towards sustainable recreation in the Koocanusa area alongside the RDEK, Columbia Basin Trust, the Ktunaxa Nation, and their Koocanusa Recreation Strategy partners.

“Additional camping locations are in the process of being identified, with the intent of future designation, to provide the public with a greater variety of camping opportunities.”

For now, the Recreation Order still remains in effect from April 8th, 2020.