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South Chilcotins Park turns a tentative two years old

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Organizers of last week’s second birthday party for the South Chilcotin Mountains provincial park said there might not be a birthday celebration next year.

The status of the young park, only a few hours north of Whistler, has been under review almost since the day it was created by the outgoing NDP government in 2001.

In the months to come, the provincial Liberal government could decommission the 71,000-hectare park wilderness, effectively opening up the area to mining exploration.

While there were only a handful of people celebrating the park’s second birthday, Tourism Whistler President Suzanne Denbak said they were the right kind of people because they cared about the fate of the South Chilcotin Mountains park.

"Small groups can be very vital to change," she said at the gathering on April 17 at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Denbak said she was there "to continue to urge the provincial government to consider the tourism value and maintain the status as a provincial park."

The birthday celebrations kicked off with the presentation of a short film called Rainshadow Wilderness.

As the aerial camera panned over the Lillooet Forest District surrounding the South Chilcotin Mountains, clear cuts and logging roads stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding wild countryside.

Some of those clear cuts reach the sub alpine.

The provincial park was created in part to protect the area from resource extraction industries like forestry and mining.

After the film Denbak presented the group with the tourism perspective on the park.

"The health of the land and the health of the environment is integral to our success," she said.

"The reason our visitors come is to experience nature first and foremost.

"They come with the clear expectation that they will have access to pristine wilderness."

Denbak said the park is the true backcountry wilderness experience that visitors are looking for in their travels to B.C.

In addition, park visitors spend more than $11 million annually. Denbak said the number of visitors needed to generate that money is quite small because it’s a high yield business.

That tourism spending, which has been growing at about 10 per cent annually, has the potential to continue to grow.

Looking at the South Chilcotin Mountains Park purely on a business model, Denbak said tourism is where the most value in the land lies.

Visitors can enjoy mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding in some of B.C.’s most spectacular scenery in the park.

Environmentalists and conservationists praised the work of the NDP government for creating this natural haven of the grizzly bear and bull trout. Their decision had been a long time in coming for some.

The Vancouver Natural History Society first proposed a provincial park in the area in 1937. Sixty years later, in 1997, the NDP government started the Lillooet Land and Resources Management Plan process.

After three and a half years at the LRMP table the representatives from the mining industry withdrew from the planning process. Two years later the 71,000-hectare park was established.

Decommissioning the park would also ruin the integrity of the LRMP process said Denbak.

This planning process is currently being used to develop a Land and Resource Management Plan for the Sea to Sky corridor.

Local filmmaker Jamie Houssian was also at the birthday party to show his film, The South Chilcotin Mountains: B.C.’s Valued Wilderness.

Houssian said he first went to the South Chilcotin Mountains on a horseback riding trip with his family when he was 10-years-old.

In his making of the short film, Houssian discovered a wide diversity of people who were concerned about the fate of the provincial park, not just the "crazy environmentalists."

His video has been presented in Victoria and sent to 35 MLAs in an effort to show the government that changing the parks’ status would be a mistake.

The birthday party ended with cake and urges to petition the government to uphold the decision of the South Chilcotin Mountains provincial park.

There were three additional birthday parties held in Victoria, Vancouver and Lillooet on April 17 in conjunction with the Whistler celebration.

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