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SAS position on proposed District of Squamish camping bylaw

On April 9th, District of Squamish council voted that draft bylaw 2679 proceed to the three readings needed for formal adoption. The effect of the bylaw will be to change the legal status of “crown land camping” within the municipal boundary, with two exempt areas. As SAS has been involved in the discussions leading up to the bylaw drafting, we thought it would be useful to attempt to explain the context and likely impacts from a climbing perspective. (District staff’s own backgrounder document for the bylaw is here and is also worth reading.)

Last May, SAS wrote an open letter to DoS highlighting concern from Squamish residents about the growing numbers of “wild” campers in areas close to residential areas like Downtown and the Mamquam FSR. We perceived a long-run risk to climbing access if residents became more negatively inclined toward climbers. Our letter suggested that DoS develop policy in two areas: deciding which areas are not acceptable for camping and expanding the provision of cheap or free camping elsewhere.

In response to our letter, the district created a working group that consulted user groups like SAS as well as the provincial employees who currently monitor camping on crown land. Early in that process, district staff realised that – unlike many BC municipalities – Squamish has no specific bylaws addressing crown land within its boundary and consequently no legal framework for enforcing camping restrictions. It then became inevitable that any camping policies would include a bylaw to correct that omission.

With knowledge of that, SAS has concentrated on lobbying for exempt areas that may eventually evolve into free “overflow” campgrounds in the summer months, similar to the “pit” outside Bishop or Skull Hollow near Smith Rock. In particular, we favour the gravel pit site at about 9km along the Mamquam FSR, just beyond and uphill from the Raffuse Creek rec site. This has been included as “exempt area A” in the bylaw. District staff have evaluated other accessible locations closer to the Stawamus Chief that we have suggested, but all are on private or Squamish Nation land.

Overall SAS is cautiously supportive of the bylaw, as currently drafted. However, it is hard to forecast actual impacts of the bylaw, as it will depend on when, and how energetically, district staff enforce it, and how visitors will respond. Our hope is that a proportion of summer visitors who currently opt to camp for free on crown land will consider private and provincial campgrounds in Squamish instead. (An awkward discovery last summer was that many private and provincial campgrounds still had free space even when 100+ vans were parked overnight on the Mamquam FSR.)

Our understanding is that the district’s intent will be to focus bylaw enforcement on managing summer visitors at peak periods and not residents living in vans at other times of year.

SAS will have more opportunity to provide input on the bylaw before its final reading. If anyone has specific concerns or comments that they would like conveyed to DoS, do email SAS through our contact page.

We will also update our “for visitors” page with new guidance if/ when the bylaw is passed.

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