Garry Garrot of Calgary cuts through some deep powder at the Harlow Mountain Poker Derby in 2018. Photo: Becky Phillips

Nakusp sledders move poker derby to protect caribou

Annual fundraiser moved miles away after tracks spotted

A snowmobile club in Nakusp is moving its prime fundraising event of the year to protect local endangered caribou.

The Arrow Lakes Ridge Riders have voluntarily closed their popular riding trails in the Harlow area east of town after caribou tracks were spotted in the area recently.

The closure will affect the club’s annual Harlow Creek poker run, which is going to be held this weekend.

“We felt that we still wanted to do the poker run, but on the other hand we want to respect the back country and respect the caribou issue as well,” says Mark Aeichele, the president of the Arrow Lakes Ridge Riders.

The club made the decision after a single set of caribou tracks were spotted on the club’s regular trail at Harlow Hut, near Box Lake.

Aeichele says the club has never had caribou in its riding area previously, so it reached out to the BC Snowmobile Federation to discuss next steps. The federation advised that sometimes clubs have taken steps to voluntarily close areas when caribou are present for a period of two weeks — especially in instances where caribou are not common to the area and are likely just passing through.

By Thursday Aeichele says the snowmobile club held a meeting, and decided to move its annual poker derby across the lake, far away from any caribou.

“A lot of our members were very upset about it,” he says. “It was a very tough decision. A lot of people were like ‘forget the caribou, that’s what we’re going to do.’”

“But look at the big picture and what it could do to our community,” he says. “If we were to go on and continue with the poker run no matter what, I think there’d be so much backlash from the community, from the Valhalla Society, from the provincial and federal governmentson this, they would step in and say ‘you know what, we’re going close the back country to this and that’s all there is to it.’”

But it’s still going to be hard on the snowmobile club. The derby attracts sledders from as far away as Calgary and Kelowna to run the well-groomed, 17-kilometer back country track. Instead, participants will have to drive an hour or more to the other side of Arrow Lake to Ingersoll Mountain, and then down a forest service road to run on an ungroomed trail.

Aeichele says it could have a big impact on the fundraiser, which has allowed the snowmobile club to improve its trails and help other community groups that like to use the backcountry.

This voluntarily closure is initially for two weeks. After that members of the executive of the snowmobile club will enter the area to assess whether the caribou is still there or has moved out of the area. If the caribou is still present, or there are more tracks, the club will extend the closure a further two weeks.

While it’s too late for this year’s poker run, Aeichele says the club is doing the right thing.

“I’ve been involved in this since 1997,” says Aeichele, who took part in caribou recovery plan talks. “We’ve negotiated our area… they wanted to close the whole east side of Nakusp, and we negotiated that down to where the most habitat and the most animals have ever been seen as a snowmobile club. So that’s where we’re coming from.

“We are not doing it in Harlow, we are going to the other side of the lake. There are no caribou on the other side of the lake, and that’s what we are doing to accommodate,” he said.

The club has already installed signs in the parking lot and trailhead to inform the public of the closure and are asking all snowmobilers to respect this short-term voluntary closure.

The Arrow Lake Ridge Riders is a small snowmobile club started in the late 1980s,which is a member in good standing of the BC Snowmobile Federation. The club’s mandate is to provide quality recreational opportunities for snowmobiling in the Nakusp area.

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The Harlow Creek Poker Derby is the Arrow Lakes Ridge Rider’s big annual event. This shot is from last year’s derby. Photo: Becky Phillips

It’s not often mountain caribou are seen in the Nakusp area. This small herd was spotted up the Kuskanax valley in late 2017. Photo: Claudia Mang

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