Hopes were high heading into a meeting with CP Rail last week regarding access to the Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River, but those hopes were soon dashed as the owners of the three local rafting companies were told there was no solution to be found.
“We were all led to believe that there would be a solution,” said Ryan Johannesen, owner of Glacier Rafting, who was admittedly still in a bit of shock only an hour after the meeting with CP Rail.
The meeting also included representatives from Wet and Wild Rafting, and Alpine Rafting, as well as several local political representatives including Mayor Ron Oszust, Area A Director Karen Cathcart, MLA Norm Macdonald, and MP Wayne Stetski via phone.
“We came to the meeting with the belief that we were going to solve the problem,” said Oszust. “I was deeply disappointed to discover that was not the case.”
Of the three sections of the Kicking Horse River where rafting companies take their guests, the upper, middle, and lower canyons, the lower is the most legendary, and often what entices those who want more of a thrill to choose the Kicking Horse River in the first place.
To access this part of the river, rafters have to exit the highway, park, and walk over the train tracks (owned by CP Rail) and enter the river. This is the way it has been done for the past four decades. However when a Transport Canada inspector witnessed this last summer, CP Rail was informed they needed to propose a safety plan. There are three different types of crossings that are often placed on tracks, each with a different cost associated with it.
“We thought we were going to be looking at which one might fit in there the best, as well as an interim solution to get us through this summer,” said Johannesen. “They came out pretty quick saying there was nothing they were willing to look at or do.”
CP Rail has publicly stated that safety concerns are too great to find a viable solution.
“Canadian Pacific (CP) has informed users accessing the lower canyon of the Kicking Horse River over CP tracks that the request to install a grade crossing is, respectfully, declined,” said CP spokesperson Salem Woodrow following last week’s meeting.
“CP has investigated the possibility of installing a level crossing at mile 30 of the Mountain Subdivision, east of Golden, and given the track curvature and sightlines, the risk to the public is too great.”
The rafters disagreed greatly with that statement, saying that sightlines were straight enough to see up to a couple hundred feet, adding that there were even measures that could be taken to increase that distance, such as the removal of some trees.
“They’re saying there’s no vision, but that’s just not true,” said Alpine Rafting’s Jim Pleym.
Glacier Rafting’s Carmen Narancsik says she is skeptical that safety is the main reason for CP’s decision, believing that liability is playing a much bigger role.
“Safety is really important to us too. There’s been 40 years of rafting companies crossing there without an incident,” she said.
With the Lower Canyon removed from the rafting route, guests will no longer float into town, getting a view of the community. It will essentially remove Golden from the rafting experience.
It will have an impact of the revenue on the rafting companies, the income of their employees, the experience of the guests who raft the river, as well as other tourism related businesses who often cater to visiting rafters.
“This is threatening the rafting industry in Golden, and will have a ripple effect through the entire community,” said Oszust. “We (the Town) have had a good relationship with CP…we don’t gouge them on taxes…the bottom line is we need a solution here.”
Another meeting is scheduled with CP, and all parties are hopeful that progress can be made. In the meantime the community has been getting involved, writing letters and signing the petition that was started online.
If anyone wishes to send in a letter of support, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The online petition can be viewed at https://www.change.org/p/cp-rail-save-the-lower-canyon.