All trail heads to Maple Mountain, and select trails on Mount Richards that are close to Maple Mountain, are closed until further notice due to the ongoing forest fire in the area.
Natasha Horsman, a spokeswoman for the Municipality of North Cowichan that owns the municipal forest reserve which includes Maple Mountain, said that in the past 30 years, Maple Mountain has only been closed to foot, bike, and horse access a single time, which occurred in 2003.
Interface fires across the province during the dry and hot summer of 2003 caused unprecedented damage and disruption.
“This was done because North Cowichan had allocated fire fighting resources to the Interior, leaving us unable to manage forest fires within our reserve,” Horsman said.
Horsman said the municipality does not close the forest reserve to non-motorized access unless there is an emergency event going on, and access to trail heads in other areas of the municipal forest reserve, including Mount Richards, Stoney Hill and Mount Tzouhalem, remain open at this time.
“Having the public’s eyes and ears on the ground in our MFR assists us in wildfire response,” she said.
“Members of the public out hiking or biking in the MFR are often the first people to either call in a wildfire or take proactive steps to prevent a wildfire, allowing us to respond quicker than waiting for smoke to be seen visibly rising from the forest.”
As for motorized vehicles, Horsman said the gates on forestry roads on Maple Mountain, Mount Richards, Stoney Hill and Mount Tzouhalem are permanently closed, and are only opened for specific times and events with the municipality’s approval.
She said Mount Prevost and Mount Sicker are the only mountains where forestry-road gates are open on a regular basis for motorized access, but these gates have been closed since July 17 this year, due to the wildfire risk.
The TimberWest forest company has announced that it is also closing the gates on all its forest lands on Vancouver Island, and ceased company operations, until the forest fire risk subsides.
Island Timberlands has also closed all public access to its private forest lands until further notice.