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Chilliwack volunteer puts B.C. minister on notice he’s no longer available for back-country cleanups

‘Why are volunteers left to clean messes that trained professionals should be dealing with?’
Aftermath of fire at camp on Sweltzer Creek under the Vedder Bridge. (Zeeshan Khan photo)

The volunteer who’s been spearheading garbage cleanups for years in the Chilliwack River Valley (CRV) said he is officially done.

Ross Aikenhead fired off a letter to Bruce Ralson, the provincial minister of Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, to notify him that without funding for dump passes, and provincial co-operation around cleaning up homeless encampments, he decided he can no longer make himself available for cleanups.

RELATED: Squatters’ camp cleaned up near Allison Pool on Chilliwack River

”Enough is enough,” Aikenhead said.

Without warning following one the most recent volunteer cleanups just east of Allison Pool in the CRV, he was told the FVRD funding for dump passes - usually covered - would no longer be available.

As a result, Aikenhead sent FVRD officials an up-to-date list of occupied camps and abandoned RVs, along with coordinates for each, and finished by stating: “as it currently stands I will no longer be able to help with any cleanups.”

The bulk of his work has been in the back country, way up Chilliwack Lake Road in the CRV.

“I supply my truck and trailer, my time, fuel, and miscellaneous expenses including maintenance, insurance and expendable items such as gloves and garbage bags at my own expense,” he advised the minister. “I am not willing to add any additional costs to my already limited personal income.”

RELATED: Province paid $20K in 2017 for homeless camp cleanups

He urged the province to recognize the value of actively protecting the irreplaceable riparian zone and wildlife habitat that’s at risk.

“The Chilliwack/Vedder River corridor is a very important and environmentally sensitive area used many people for fishing and many other outdoor activities that needs protecting by your Ministry and staff. Yet anytime I report an issue it gets ignored, and anytime I have the opportunity to discuss issues with your staff I get told there is no funding available to do what they are supposed to be doing,” the volunteer wrote in frustration.

It’s hard to understand the inaction of various governments.

”Who does actually have jurisdiction?” he asked. “Who should be paying?”

Everything from his understanding points to FLNRO, and the regional district to a degree in that particular area, “but they only have so much say and so much funding.”

“From what I understand from the Tamihi bridge west to the Vedder bridge is a no-camping zone on the Chilliwack River under Section 58 I believe. Who is supposed to be enforcing this?”

Since January 2019 Aikenhead has personally removed a back-breaking 24,040 kg (53,000 lbs) of garbage and recyclables from the wilderness areas around Chilliwack.

“Why do volunteers have to deal with this type of situation that trained professionals should be dealing with?” he asked rhetorically.

RELATED: Volunteers clean up huge messes in the CRV

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Volunteers haul trash up a steep incline from a Sweltzer Creek homeless camp under the Vedder River bridge on Jan. 29, 2023. (Streams Foundations Canada)

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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