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Crest Creek Crags - Heathens and BC Parks Conflict

Crest Creek Crags, BC Parks and The Heathens Mountaineering Club
A personal retrospective, and perhaps an epitaph.
The Heathens over on Vancouver Island for many years performed extraordinary volunteer trail work at Crest Creek Crags on Vancouver Island. Unfortunately, they fell into conflict with the Government pertaining to camping and a proposed volunteer agreement, which eventually led to a court case culminating in a plea agreement. 
Fast forward to 2020, and I have read reports of overgrown and deteriorating trails at Crest Creek Crags. Having to my knowledge never signed the volunteer agreement, The Heathens appear to be long gone - perhaps even extinct. A vacuum has been created.
It is interesting and oftentimes tragic how we humans can become utterly convinced that we are on the side of what is right during a dispute. In the aftermath of two entrenched opposing sides who believed precisely this, all that is left now is trails choking with bush and deteriorating trail structures. 
In this way, it is possible for both parties to be right, but absolutely wrong at the same time. 
Unsettling as it is, things often end not with a bang, but with a quiet whimper.
The cynic in me wonders if in fact Government and BC Parks actually wanted this outcome; less park, people and volunteers to manage, less hassle, less expense. They certainly appear to have broken the volunteer spirit of the Heathens.
I can't help but feel a sense of sadness and loss now that the dust has long settled. Indeed, the politics of Crest Creek Crags has grown virtually silent now.
Just another footnote on the page of history that I will endeavour to remember and preserve.

While the Heathens may have won their court case regarding the illegal camping fines levied against them at Crest Creek Crags, reaching an acceptible volunteer agreement with BC Parks still seems to be elusive.  Without an agreement, the Heathens will be unable to continue their exception volunteer trail work at Crest Creek Crags on Vancouver Island.

The Heathens's attorney Tees Kiddle Spencer recently drafted and submitted a letter to George Heyman outlining the Heathens's position and concerns pertaining to the volunteer agreement they have been offered.  

Their letter can be viewed and accessed in its entirety here:

June 7, 2018 Letter From Heathens to Ministry of Environment

December 24, 2016

A Lower Mainland mountain club recently criticized BC Parks for its attack on volunteers working at Crest Creek Crags in Strathcona Park. Volunteers for the last thirty years have added $1 million of value to the crags and made it known internationally. BC Parks response is to slap the volunteers with heavy fines and sabotage the spirit of volunteerism in Strathcona Park. BC Parks is indulging in a petty vendetta and behaving like a small child throwing a hissy fit.

Letter sent to Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Environment (responsible for BC Parks)

December 23th, 2016

Dear Minister,

I represent the British Columbia Mountaineering Club [BCMC] with more than 800 active members.  We are writing you to urge the crown and BC Parks to repeal the “illegal camping” fines levied against the Heathens Mountaineering Club [HMC] in 2016.  The BCMC also strongly encourages BC Parks to normalize relationships with the HMC by preparing and ratifying a new signed volunteer agreement that is consistent with other volunteer groups across the province of BC.

The volunteer work at Crest Creek Crags, which has been performed by the HMC volunteers over many decades, has an estimated value by some to be in excess of a million dollars.  In addition, the access to the outstanding rock climbing area that this volunteer trail work facilitates is recognized and appreciated internationally by the growing global climbing community.  

In light of the current funding and resource pressures facing BC Parks, it appears to be highly counterproductive that BC Parks has chosen to both alienate and punish volunteer trail crews by issuing excessively large fines.  Equally puzzling to the BCMC is why BC Parks representatives have demanded the HMC sign a new volunteer agreement which is distinctly different from other provincial agreements, in order for the HMC to continue their usual volunteer trail improvement efforts.  Furthermore, the BC Parks decision to include a confidentiality clause (viewed as a “gag order”) in the new volunteer agreement is not consistent with other coastal club agreements ratified with BC Parks and appears excessively harsh for the situation.  The BC Parks staff dealing with this issue have also failed to recognize and acknowledge the legitimacy of the existing signed agreement with the HMC; an agreement that supports and legitimizes the volunteer work that the HMC has been performing for many years.

The BCMC requests that BC Parks work quickly and responsibly to remove the fines levied against the HMC to restore and foster the spirit of volunteerism at Strathcona Park, and to create a reasonable volunteer agreement with the HMC that is more consistent with similar volunteer groups.  The BCMC is concerned that without ongoing volunteer work provided exclusively by the HMC, the outstanding trail infrastructure at Crest Creek Crags will soon deteriorate, which would be a tragedy noticed by many.  We hope sincerely that such loss is not desired outcome of BC Parks and the BC Government.


[signatory withheld]

BCMC Conservation Chair and Webmaster

Trail Daze 2015

Trail work by Heathens Mountaineering Club at Crest Creek Crags Vancouver Island B.C.

Some British Columbians are still under the illusion that BC Parks is the underfunded white-knight protector of our parklands.   While this was once true decades ago, a growing number of experiences by groups such as the Heathens Mountaineering Club and Garibaldi Park 2020 (amongst several others) suggest that the BC Parks Organization of the 21st century is a much different, darker organization. 

The Heathens's horror show experience with BC Parks on Vancouver Island is documented in detail below.   BC Parks's behavior of bullying, breaking signed agreements when it suits them, ignoring communications from the taxpaying public, lying, issuing large fines to volunteer trailbuilders and shutting down and persecuting volunteer trailbuilders seems to be becoming a pattern of behavior rather than an mere isolated incident.   Most shocking of all is that BC Parks had the audacity to demand that The Heathens sign a "gag order" forbidding them to speak to the media in order to continue to maintain their trails at Crest Creek Crags as they have done for decades.

These Documents chronical the Heathens's BC Parks fiasco at Crest Creek Crags (generously supplied by the Heathens Mountaineering Club)


2Coverletter.pdf - Summary of the issue

3DonCaddenHeathensTerninationJan2016.pdf - BC Parks shuts the Heathens Down 

4ResponsetoDon-CaddenPreparedOct2015.pdf - The Heathens express many concerns including the "gag order" contained within the new agreement proposed by BC Parks









- The Heathens announce the following in the minutes:

Chris said that he will not liaise with BC Parks any more. He is not looking for support, but wants this recorded in the minutes of this meeting as records of past efforts have not been available. He referred to Parks being unable to find copies of the past Volunteer Agreement (based on the agreement presented, it appears that Chris misunderstood the term of that agreement, not realizing it was not a long term agreement and only applied for 1 season). Andy also advised that the only document in question (can’t find) is a long term agreement with which was searched for numerous times and could not be found in any files. There were, however, several short term agreements like the one Chris produced and that all the other pamphlets and booklets that Chris presented, i.e. Master Plan and other government documents are also on file.



11Original-agreementbetweenBCParksandHeathens.pdf - The Original Agreement BC Parks "couldn't find"


13CrestCreekSign.pdf - BC Parks Sign established after the so called "3 month volunteer agreement" expired

The BC Parks response for the Heathens not signing their "gag order" agreement:



July 11, 2016

Via the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC list server and originally from the Vancouver Island Climbing and Mountaineering Group comes this information on the Crest Creek Crags climbing routes in Crest Creek Crags Provincial Park on Vancouver Island maintained by The Heathens club.

On January 26, 2016, the Parks branch issued a stop work order to the Heathens Club regarding their maintenance projects at Crest Creek. The club has officially maintained the trail network at the crags since 1993, but now the ministry is demanding that the club volunteers enter a new agreement before work can continue. The club refuses to sign the new agreement proposed for multiple reasons.
Repeated attempts by The Heathens to contact BC parks failed. BC Parks is now handing out $1,500 fines. According to The Heathens, it is one of the most disgusting things ever seen in our parks. The Heathens are staging a sit in and are asking for the public's support. It is occurring all the week of July 11th and up coming weekend. They characterize what BC parks is doing as uncalled for and cowardly.
The following are images of armed officers handing out hefty fines to members of the Heathens Outdoor Club.  The Heathens refused to sign an unconsititional gag order that forbid them to speak with the media about their volunteerism within Strathcona Park.  Since they already have a signed agreement with BC Parks which is still valid, the Heathens felt it unreasonable to sign this new onerous and anti-democratic agreement.  This was how BC Parks responded to their refusal to relinquish their constutional rights.  The Heathens are fighting this action.