A conflict between rafting companies outraged by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s decision to bar them access to key portions of the Kicking Horse River near Golden is echoing far beyond the river canyon’s walls.
“As you will be aware, the recent decision by the Canadian Pacific Railway to remove access to the Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River will have very serious consequences for tourism operators in Golden,” MLA Norm Macdonald warned Tourism Minister Shirley Bond earlier this week. “For over 30 years, rafters have safely crossed the CP Rail tracks to access the ‘put-in’ for the Lower Canyon. This specific tourism product is the jewel in the crown for rafting in our region, and the loss of this particular run will result in significant harm to rafting companies, and a dramatic reduction in visitor dollars in our community.”
That relationship between the transportation giant and six small local rafting outfits fell apart following extensive discussions in March. That’s when CP Rail notified the rafters that they were no longer allowed access to the river’s Lower Canyon via a walk over the CPR’s tracks.
Support from rafters has been pouring in.
“We certainly support maintaining access to the Kicking Horse River for all parties affected,” said Ralph Koerber of Revelstoke’s APEX Rafting. “It’s apparent they need to find a solution and I’m confident that will happen. The lower canyon accounts for a significant part of the rafting business in Golden, it’s a beautiful and exciting run for kayakers as well visitors to the area looking for an adventure fix on a raft. Due to the steep terrain access is limited to using the existing road and crossing the tracks, so unfortunately any legal access to that particular section of the river hinges on consent from CP Rail.”
A statement from Tourism Golden said the CPR’s move “has sparked global interest and an online petition (Click here to reach it.) has generated more than 5,000 signatures.”
Internationally renowned for its whitewater rafting, 40,000 people raft the Kicking Horse River every year. It is one of Golden’s major tourist attractions during the summer months.
Loss of access to the Lower Canyon is detrimental to the Town of Golden and the local rafting companies that guide guests down the Kicking Horse River every year. The estimated potential impact to the community is in the millions of dollars.
“Letters of support are flooding in from all over the world,” Joanne Sweeting, executive director of Tourism Golden, said in a statement. “This is a stretch of an iconic heritage river that attracts international visitors to check off a bucket list activity. Closure of the canyon by CP Rail damages Canada’s reputation as a wilderness destination where citizens have access to public lands. The decision impacts our local community and its effects are rippling across the world.”
“We have faith that CP Rail will do the right thing and assure access to the Lower Canyon in time for the Golden Mountain Festival during the May Long Weekend, which is dedicated to celebrating the region’s rivers and wetlands this year.
In attendance at the meetings on March 24 and 31 were several local political representatives including Golden Mayor Ron Oszust, the local MP and MLA, CSRD Area A Director, and representatives from the Kicking Horse River (KHR) Outfitters Association and Tourism Golden.
CP Rail reaffirmed at the second meeting that access was denied and that it was not willing to seek a solution. According to public statements, CP Rail has cited safety concerns as being too great to find a viable solution. The area that accesses the river put-in is CP Rail property and the crossing was not meeting their legal, risk and regulatory requirements.
Carmen Narancsik of KHR Outfitters Association said “safety is really important to us, too. There’s been 40 years of rafting companies crossing there without an incident.”