A lengthy dispute between the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, the largest private landowner in the province, and a recreation club in Merritt will be heard in BC Court of Appeal in Vancouver on Nov. 23 and Nov. 24, with the decision expected to clarify access to public lakes enclosed by private property.
A Dec. 7, 2018, ruling by the BC Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves established that Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake in the Nicola Valley are publicly accessible. The lakes and the road are surrounded by private ranch lands owned by the Douglas Lake Cattle Company and have been behind locked gates for many years. As part of the ruling, Groves directed Douglas Lake Cattle Company to remove the gates blocking access to the two lakes.
December’s decision was the culmination of a protracted trial spanning six years, pitting a wealthy private ranch — the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, owned by U.S. billionaire Stan Kroenke (husband of a Walmart heir and owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Colorado Avalanche, Arsenal and other professional sports franchises) — against the B.C. government and the Nicola Fish and Game Club in a fight over access the two small fishing lakes.
While Grove’s decision ruled that such lakes are publicly accessible, the Douglas Lake Cattle Company is appealing the 2019 ruling and is seeking an order declaring there is no public access to Stoney Lake and that access to Minnie Lake is only by way of Wasley Creek.
The BC Court of Appeal has granted the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. leave to intervene.
"This case raises important questions about the extent of the public's right to cross private property to access public resources such as lakes, hiking trails, and wilderness,” said Morgan Blakley, a lawyer who represents the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC for the appeal hearing.
“The decision could have implications for public access across the province and brings to bear hundreds of years of case law."
Added Kim Reeves, chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC: "Historically, there were trails throughout B.C., many were created by Indigenous peoples. Some of these remained trails. while others were developed into roads. In all cases, they are disappearing one by one throughout the province as landowners destroy them by plowing them up or putting up fences and no trespassing signs."
Both the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club and the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC have received financial support from West Coast Environmental Law's Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund.