Family stranded behind forestry road gate

NANAIMO – Ladysmith area family stranded behind locked logging road gate on weekend.

What was supposed to be a quick outing to a back country lake turned out to be an ordeal lasting several hours when a Ladysmith family found itself stranded behind a locked logging road gate on the weekend.

Misty Tovey, her three-year-old son and boyfriend thought it would be fun to go check out McKay Lake, located beyond the end of Spruston Road in the hills above Cassidy, Saturday afternoon but their short outing ran into a snag when, not knowing the area, they missed the lake and drove through an open gate on a logging road.

“We’re new to the area and we’d heard about the lake up there, so we thought that afternoon we’d go and try and find it,” Tovey said. “We go through this open gate and we thought we must be getting close to the beach or whatever. Two or three minutes up the road this truck passes by us, going the other way real slow and waving and smiling and we wave and smile and we acknowledge each other. We drive another two minutes up the road and there’s this great big gate, so we turned around to drive back and they’d locked us in.”

Tovey said the other party had been on the road cutting firewood. The driver knew they were there, but locked the gate behind him, blocking them in.

Tovey, her son and boyfriend were a family in a minivan, she was wearing a dress and it seemed unlikely, she said, that they could have been mistaken for another party out cutting firewood who would have had had a key for the gate.

“I thought they were smiling to be nice, but I feel more like they were smiling because, ‘Aha, we’re going to lock you in,'” Tovey said.

The family tried to find another way out, but when that search proved fruitless and fearing they might run out of fuel, they parked the minivan by the locked gate.

Tovey said she is familiar with the bush and normally there should be a sign posted on or near a logging road gate warning of potential road closures after certain hours and phone numbers people can call for help if they do become stranded or want a woodcutting permit. She found nothing in the area.

Two men finally came by who took Tovey’s boyfriend to get his car, so the family could at least drive home. In the meantime she contacted another family member who managed to call two gate security people from Nanaimo Lakes who drove out and unlocked the gate.

“They were so nice to us and they had to drive 40 minutes from their house on a Saturday evening to let us out,” Tovey said.

All told, the family was stranded behind the gate for more than four hours and an estimated 10 km from the end of Spruston Road. They had food and water, but Tovey’s boyfriend has a spine defect that would have made hiking out of the area difficult if not impossible for him.

Tovey said she wants to warn people that this could happen to anyone who passes through a logging road gate.

“There could have been two or three families up there for all (the firewood cutters) knew and they didn’t care. They just locked it,” Tovey said.

TimberWest owns forest lands around McKay and Nanaimo Lakes and controls public access to them.

Sue Handel, TimberWest communications manager, would not speak to the particular incident, but said TimberWest lands are private property and people going into those lands are trespassing if they do not have a company permit to enter them.

“We are attentive to the issue because of the risk to public safety, vandalism, dumping and the liability to us that comes from people essentially trespassing on our lands,” Handel said. “We do remind people that in order to access it legally, we need to have some kind of agreement. It’s not even enter at your own risk. It’s trespass if you don’t have prior permission. There is no opportunity for access unless it’s coordinated through our office.”

TimberWest gets large numbers of access requests from individuals, but the company prefers to deal with organized groups or clubs that have insurance coverage for their members, which makes it easier for the company to communicate information about safety, closures and operational issues to the members through one contact person. The company strongly encourages people who want to access TimberWest lands to join one of those organized recreation groups or clubs.

Handel said contractors who drive in and out of a gate several times a day might leave it open, but an open gate is not an invitation to enter TimberWest property.

“They’ll leave a gate open if they’re in and out of it five times a day, but an open gate shouldn’t be construed as permission to access the area,” Handel said. “That’s it in a nutshell. Access is not permitted without permission, particularly at this time of year when one our primary concerns is the risk of wild fire. It’s just a bad time to be out there.”

For more information about TimberWest access policy, to view maps of areas owned by the company and other information, please visit the company website at www.timberwest.com.