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Locked gate near Cultus Lake needed to keep the peace on Soowahlie road

With the huge number of visitors to Cultus Lake, sometimes motorists try to take a short cut through private roads on the Soowahlie reserve. A new locked gate has changed that, says the chief. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
With the huge number of visitors to Cultus Lake, sometimes motorists try to take a short cut through private roads on the Soowahlie reserve. A new locked gate has changed that, says the chief.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

A locked gate had to be installed on a private road near Cultus Lake recently for the safety and security of the community, says the chief of Soowahlie First Nation.

Sweltzer Creek Crescent is a gravel road, which eventually ends up near the Vedder bridge after snaking through the Soowahlie reserve. The road has a 30 km/hr speed limit, which is often ignored, after a motorist turns off Columbia Valley Highway.

The road also has a long history of being used as a backroad shortcut by people who are trespassing, without realizing it.

Some may not be aware it is in fact a private road with a security gate which can now be locked, said Soowahlie Chief Brenda Wallace.

The challenge is that the roads through Soowahlie are often overrun by speeders, and drivers who want a shortcut to get to the Vedder Bridge to avoid the traffic — or a police roadblock.

Chief Wallace said they decided as a band council to install a locked gate on the Cultus side of their road.

"We did it for the privacy and protection of our families and children," said Chief Wallace. "People were not respecting the speed limit."

Speeds of 50 km to 80 km along the gravel road were not uncommon, before they put the gate in.

"It's been going on for as long as I can remember," she said.

Those who tried to take the back roads over the recent B.C. Day long weekend were disappointed to find the gate locked and traffic cut off from access to the Soowahlie roads that go through the reserve.

"The gate will only locked on weekends, and some weeknights after 4 p.m. during the summer," Chief Wallace said. "We looked at the situation and decided to go with a gate."

The chief said she has personally had aggressive drivers tailgating her, speeding toward her or trying to pass her on the roads that.

"Every summer we get a lot of people taking our roads to try to avoid a road block because they're intoxicated, or they're trying to take a shortcut because traffic is lined up to the bridge," she said.

Vehicles kick up clouds of dust.

"People don't understand it's a gravel road. They come off the highway onto the gravel. They can fishtail and end up in the ditch."

The topic exploded on a Facebook page and a Soowahlie resident said she was amazed at how vicious the discussion got, descending into racist accusations.

"I had written up a well-thought-out post regarding Sweltzer Creek Road which runs through Soowahlie," said resident Barb Commodore.

The Cultus area has to sometimes deal with bumper-to-bumper traffic in the summer. Commodore said she couldn't even get out of her driveway along the highway over the crazy busy long weekend.

"People don't understand that it is a private road," she said.

It was built and maintained by Soowahlie First Nation, and is not a public roadway.

"I had people telling me they had a right to use our road," she said.

The post was eventually removed but not before more than 400 responses were logged, most from those trying to negate the truth she was trying to share, and to make racial slurs against aboriginals.

The pushback was totally unexpected from uninformed and insulting posters.

"So many comments were blatantly racial," said Commodore.

After the weekend, Chief Wallace said she met with an RCMP First Nations Policing Unit member, who confirmed that RCMP support for Soowahlie's efforts to keep the community safe by locking the gate.

"I know tourism is increasing at Cultus, I'm just not sure if the road capacity is able to sustain the growth," said Wallace.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno

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