From forgotten to overcrowded: The past and future of Mount Begbie

After the province added a five-year ban on new commercial recreation tenure applications on the upper section of Mount Begbie, co-founder of ACC Columbia Mountains section, Ben Wilkey, talks about the future of Mt. Begbie and local Revelstoke trails planning.

The Mt. Begbie trail in front of the Mt. Begbie glacier. Photo by: Recreation sites and trails B.C.

A lot has changed in Revelstoke over the last decade. Trails that used to be overgrown are now overused. Untouched wilderness now has more lodges, helicopters, and sleds whirring about. Many commercial proposals have slid under the radar, but when a luxury lodge was proposed on our dear Mt. Begbie locals saw red.

After news that the B.C. government has passed a Section 17 order under the Land Act that puts a five-year freeze on commercial recreation development on upper Mount Begbie, the Revelstoke Mountaineer had a chat with co-founder of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) Columbia Mountains section, to figure out what the future of Mt. Begbie and our local trails in Revelstoke will look like. 

Forgotten and overgrown trails

“I have used all these trails for just about my entire life,” said born and raised Revelstoke local Ben Wilkey. 

Before the ski hill, a lot of Wilkey’s favorite trails were being forgotten. With the government funding withering away together with the loss of interest, the trails were starting to get seriously overgrown. He started the website revelstoketrails.com to encourage the community to go out and explore local trails. 

But to really make a difference Wilkey needed funding. He tried to gather some stakeholders to start up a trail alliance society to access grants, but it all fell through after a couple of meetings. 

Autumn 2018, Wilkey co-funded the Columbia Mountains section of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC). 

“It had been on my mind for years. I thought it was kind of weird that Rogers Pass, the birthplace of North American mountaineering, didn’t have an alpine club section. Growing up here, there weren’t really any opportunities for young kids,” he said. Finally, Wilkey had found a portal to help trail maintenance and create a youth program. 

Co-founder of the Alpine Club of Canada Columbia Mountains section, Ben Wilkey. Photo: Provided by Ben Wilkey.

ACC takes over maintenance of Mt. Begbie trail

The alpine hut and luxury lodge proposal for Mount Begbie in 2019 brought the poor conditions of Mt. Begbie’s trails and campsites to the forefront of the community, Wilkey said. 

While the investors promised to improve the Begbie trails if their application was successful, ACC beat them to the case. 

This summer ACC signed a partnership agreement with Recreation Site and Trails B.C. for the Mt. Begbie and McCrae trails.

“Currently there’s four rotten tent pads and a pretty dysfunctional outhouse,” Wilkey described. As soon as the snow melts this spring, ACC will start rebuilding the Begbie trails and campsite. 

“We got $30,000 dollars in the bank ready to be thrown into this project,” Wilkey said. ACC’s plan is to build around ten new tent sites, install bear-proof food containers, as well as a couple of outhouses. 

Tent site at the Mt. Begbie campsite. Photo by: Recreation sites and trails B.C.

Not against helicopters and sleds

“We all gotta have our piece of the pie. I am not against motorized access, I am a helicopter pilot. What I really wanted to stop was the hut and high-end hotel. Everybody realized Mount Begbie wasn’t the place to do it. I know what it takes to service one of these hotels, with guests, food, and staff. That’s two to three hours of flying above us every day,” Wilkey said. 

Petition asking too much? 

North Columbia Environmental Society (NCES) made a petition for the complete protection of Mt. Begbie. They proposed only allowing non-motorized recreation and shutting down all commercial recreation, logging, and mining in the area. 

The petition gathered over 1,300 signatures and was presented to the province this summer, but it never gained much traction with the government, Wilkey said. “Maybe that was too big of an ask,” he said. 

Wilkey came up with the idea of asking the province to hold all commercial applications until the stakeholders had gotten the chance to get together and discuss Mt. Begbie’s faith as a community. “Not someone in Victoria trying to decide what’s appropriate and what isn’t,” Wilkey said. 

ACC asked for a 20 kilometers radius moratorium to further protect the mountains surrounding Revelstoke. “Begbie is one thing, but is this just smoke and mirrors to lay down an application for Mt. Macpherson?” Wilkey asked. 

After consultations with First Nations and a meeting between former forestry minister Dough Donaldson, the provincial government has issued a Section 17 order under the Land Act for higher areas of Mount Begbie, said spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Thomas Winterhoff. 

This Section 17 order under the Land Act covers 5,966 hectares and will be in effect for five years. The ministry said that will “give the community an opportunity to organize and lead a recreation access management planning initiative for the area.”

This moratorium halts all new commercial recreation applications for the next five years, however, the order does not prohibit tree harvesting activities in the affected area which is planned on the lower reaches of the mountain, said Winterhoff. The ministry said the order will not affect any existing tenure holders, just new commercial recreation tenure applications.

Backcountry Recreational Access Plan (BRAP)

The province gave the community in Revelstoke these five years to organize and make a Backcountry Recreational Access Plan (BRAP.) 

The biggest stakeholders are the current tenures (CMH Revelstoke and Heli Canada Adventures), the alpine club, the snowmobile club, and various trappers and hunters, Wilkey said. 

Stakeholder meetings will begin at the start of next year with some support from the city and provincial government, he said. 

Wilkey is optimistic referring to the success with BRAP in Golden. “Really, we need a BRAP all the way from Mica Creek to Shelter Bay, but Mt. Begbie is the first step,” Wilkey said. 

Hiking in Glacier National Park. Photo: Contributed by Ian Tomm

The future of Revelstoke trails

“I used to be of the mindset that if I could build a fence around Revelstoke and keep it a secret I would. But I’ve realized now that I’m not the only person who thinks Revelstoke is pretty special. The trails can’t take the overuse because they are not built properly. We just gotta set them up so that people can enjoy them and not destroy them,” Wilkey said. 

Wilkey’s goal with the alpine club for the next decade is to make partnership agreements with the government for all the trails that are already on their radar in the area. 

Next, he wants to start ticking off the trails that exist out there on the ground, but that don’t exist in government archives, he said. “If these trails are ever slated for logging, they are just going to get wiped and that’s it. If there’s no record of them, they don’t have to fix them up afterward. We don’t even get a seat at the table to talk about it,” Wilkey said. 

However, Wilkey believes that if ACC signs partnership agreements, they will get to have a say when it comes to issues like lodges and logging. 

“The third stage is the fun part where we’re hoping to build new trails around Revelstoke,” Wilkey concludes. 

Learn more

Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine was first to report on plans for a lodge development on Mount Begbie in October 2018. For our archive of stories, please see this page.

Sofie Hagland is the multimedia community journalist for Revelstoke Mountaineer. When Sofie is not skinning up a mountain or climbing up a rock, she is probably behind a camera looking for her next story. Do you have tips on Revelstoke news, outdoor life, or what's happening in the community? Contact Sofie at sofie@revelstokemountaineer.com or call/text 672-999-3616.