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‘Too much’: popular Coquitlam waterfall turning into nightmare destination, say residents

Residents ask city hall to move the Crystal Falls trailhead to another location or to install barricades and signs after 250 visitors per hour led to near collisions, trespassing and hostile behaviour

A popular trail that can draw more than 1,000 hikers a day is becoming a nightmare for a Coquitlam neighbourhood.

And residents along Karley Crescent and the north end of Shaughnessy Street say they’ve had enough with the traffic tie-ups, littering and loitering at the Crystal Falls trailhead, close to their homes.

Monday, council-in-committee heard a delegation from area residents James Tecson and Beth Van Gaalen after they privately shared with councillors a video of the congestion at the intersection.

The clip, taped last June, shows a steady stream of pedestrians, and vehicles trying to locate parking: Some making U-turns, others stopping in the middle of the road to wait for other cars to pass by and a few parking in residents’ driveways, or blocking their access entirely.

There are also scenes of near collisions, and hikers trespassing on private yards.

Tecson and Van Gaalen, who spoke to council on behalf of 21 area households, said the crowds grew up to 250 visitors per hour last summer; once school returned in September, buses filled with students on field trips also arrived in the neighbourhood. 

As well, cyclists have used residents’ hoses to wash off their bike tires, and a few hikers have been unruly and hostile, they said.

They also fear the traffic snarl ups could pose a danger should emergency crews need to respond in the neighbourhood.

MOVE TRAILHEAD OR WARD OFF VISITORS

The pair has asked city hall to either move the Crystal Falls trailhead to another location or to install barricades and signs.

At issue is land ownership, Mayor Richard Steward said, as the first 300 metres of the flat three-kilometre trail is owned by the municipality. After that, the trail crosses over three privately held parcels before reaching the waterfalls, which are located on Crown land.

Tecson told council he has spoken with the owners of the three private parcels and they are sympathetic to the residents; one owner has agreed to posting signs and placing a barricade on his property to alert hikers they are trespassing, he said.

Tecson said city council also has the authority to place a barricade on municipal land, at the trailhead. 

The overwhelming number of visitors “is too much,” Tecson told council. “The neighbourhood wasn’t designed to handle that kind of traffic.”

But Coun. Dennis Marsden said if a barricade goes up, people will still climb over it. 

Marsden said the city has numerous unofficial trailheads, many of which lead into parks and ravines, and are in residential neighbourhoods, too. He likened the matter to the Coquitlam Crunch, another popular trail that also has created headaches for area residents.

‘NOT A COQUITLAM PARK’

Coun. Bonita Zarrillo said the Crystal Falls overcrowding has been growing for years, and spiked last year during the global pandemic. 

The trail “is not a Coquitlam park,” she said while suggesting council dip into the city’s Community Support and Recover Plan fund allocated for COVID-19 relief to address the neighbourhood clogging.

Tecson told council he and his neighbours want to see action “before the sun starts to come out and the whole world comes to our doorstep again.”

He’s warning social media hiking sites about advertising Crystal Falls as a public trail.

Coun. Craig Hodge, who is on the Metro Vancouver regional park committee that’s chaired by Anmore Mayor John McEwen, said Metro parks saw a 30% increase in visitors last year looking for outdoor recreation.

“I have lived in the [Burke Mountain] area for 25 years and never seen so much pedestrian and vehicle traffic, which speaks to both the popularity of the trail and the need to find a long-term solution,” Hodge said. “It is not going to be easy given that the trail and most of the surrounding land is privately owned.”

“We recognize that, with COVID-19 increasing the popularity of outdoor recreation amenities, as well as with the explosion of user-driven trail apps, there has been increased traffic to the Crystal Falls trail,” said Don Luymes, Coquitlam’s general manager of parks, recreation, culture and facilities, in an email to the Tri-City News Wednesday.

He added, “The city has worked with the residents to help mitigate the conflicts on Karley Crescent. This includes parking signs, restricting parking to one side of the street, installing a garbage can and meeting with residents to address their concerns.”

“While this trail has long been used by the community, it is not an official city-sanctioned trail with the majority of it running through private property. We are exploring options for long-term access to Crystal Falls, but due to the complex nature of the property ownership and the need for a multi-pronged approach, this is likely a long-term solution.”