As one walks up the beautifully constructed trail to Crest Crags, a climbing area in Strathcona Park, near Gold River, one does not have the sense that the creators were only keen on climbing rock faces. The area has been developed with a deep sense of care and respect. As Andrew Findlay said in an article in Adventurous Magazine, 2005, “besides the exquisite quality of the rock and lack of crowds, one of the features that sets Crest Creek apart from most other rock climbing areas, is the fact that someone obviously cares about the place.” That caring group is the Heathens (with a strong “th”: people of the heath) Climbing Club.

But unfortunately in this brave new world of government forms and standard “volunteer agreements”, such caring groups as the Heathens are pushed aside, and even charged with illegal camping near the Crags. Trials on their charges with attached fines totaling about $3,000.00 come before the Provincial court in Campbell River, on April 18th. There will be a demonstration of support.

Demonstration: Tuesday April 18th @ 8:45 to 10:00 in front of Campbell River Court House

The history of the Heathens interface with BC Parks over the last 25 years speaks volumes. Detailed 23 page proposals by the Heathens as to the development of the area. Short (2 page) agreements originating from Parks, with promises of insurance coverage and other commitments, that were, according to Heathens spokesperson, Chris Barner, never met by Parks. As a result, “Heathen volunteers worked for eighteen years without any insurance” says Barner. He added, “ We never knew because we never had any claims, even through the heavy trail building work.”

The most recent “volunteer agreement”, a standard form for all volunteer groups to sign “ or get out”, had a number of clauses that caused Heathen members concern. Why a “confidentiality clause”: what secrets are Parks afraid of being disclosed to volunteers? Why a “conflict of interest” clause? Also, to do even the sign-up work of volunteers, record all their time and work and save the required forms would have required far more time and resources than the Heathens possessed. Barner tried to negotiate, with BC Parks , but it was “their way or the high way”; when some Heathen members were camped near the Crags last August, they were charged with illegal camping, fined and evicted.

The government agreement had the statement, “We own the Parks”. As members of Friends of Strathcona Park, we believe that we, the people, own the park. And without the expertise and caring of groups like the Heathens, our parks suffer immensely.

For more information about the demonstration contact Jack Welsh at passj@telus.net or 250-334-2321

For more detailed information about the Heathens and Parks issues visit: https://friendsofstrathcona.org/heathens-2/

For the Andrew Findlay article in Adventurous: https://friendsofstrathcona.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/adventurous_magazine.pdf

Jennifer Pass

Friends of Strathcona Park