Local rafting operators are understandably frustrated after Canadian Pacific set up a gate to block access to the Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River on the weekend.
This action comes after the company seemingly agreed to permit access to the Kicking Horse’s most intense section of white water in an Apr. 22 meeting with stakeholders, the Town of Golden and the Province. The temporary solution for this year was to hire a flagger to observe the crossing during set times of the day.
In previous years, rafts have had to be removed from the rapids in order to avoid a dangerous, unraftable section downriver from the Kicking Horse Rest Area. Rafters and their guides would then get in a bus, take a small access road further along the Trans Canada Highway and cross CP tracks in order to access the Lower Canyon stretch of rapids, which is seen as the crown jewel of Golden’s rafting industry. This part of the trip would take rafters through downtown Golden and under the Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge.
When Transport Canada noticed this arrangement last summer, the governmental body told CP that a proper crossing needed to be put in place.
Jim Pleym, one of the owners of Alpine Rafting, says his company rafted the Lower Canyon earlier this month, a week before the gate was set up, with clients crossing the tracks to access the river just as they have in the past. A week later that was no longer possible.
“We saw them putting (the gate) in…there were four RCMP cars and the CP rail police cars as well. There were quite a few people standing there actually. Evidently they were anticipating a riot or something in the canyon,” Pleym said.
Glacier Raft Company didn’t kick off their season until the long weekend, but had a training run halted before it could even begin on May 20.
“There was no notice at all,” said Glacier owner Ryan Johannessen, adding that this gate looked a lot more permanent compared to a gate he had previously observed further down the access road.
Due to a heavy dose of rain over the long weekend, water levels were too high to raft the Lower Canyon anyway, but both Pleym and Johannessen believe it would be ready over the next few days under normal circumstances.
Johannessen was there when the sides appeared to come to to an agreement and says that the weekend’s developments were a major turn of events compared to what CP had agreed to on Apr. 22.
“As far as we knew they were just finalizing the language and agreement basically,” he said.
“The head guys from CP came here and they told us…’no problem for your opening weekend even if the agreement’s not all finalized, you guys will have access. We’re not going to impact your business’ and that clearly hasn’t happened, so we’re a little less than impressed.”
The kink in the deal appears to fall on liability, with CP reportedly expecting the Province to cover 100 per cent of the liability and the Province saying that CP needs to cover their fair share. Johannessen, however, says that liability was never discussed in the Apr. 22 meeting where an agreement in principle was announced.
Negotiations between the Province and CP have continued this week. How those talks are progressing is anyone’s guess as both sides have yet to release any further information.
For Pleym and Johannessen, the waiting game is a stressful one.
“There’s really nothing we can do. I feel like it’s completely out of everybody’s hands,” Pleym said.
Pleym says that his company will have to start issuing refunds should access to the Lower Canyon remain closed next week, which will mean less income for the company but also less work hours for its crew of raft guides, who are paid per section rafted.
Despite the tumultuous spring for the industry, the owners of Golden’s two largest rafting companies remain hopeful and are thankful for the community’s continued support.