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It’s not clothing or nudity at Wreck Beach that’s the debate, but swimmers versus boaters that the park staff are having to balance

February 20th, 2013 · 12 Comments

A change of topic that we all need: story here.

Thousands of naked beach-goers. Dozens of clothed, beer-drinking boaters and Jet Skiers determined to party nearby. Harried bureaucrats trying to keep the peace.

That drama will be playing out again this summer at Vancouver’s legendary Wreck Beach, on the western tip of the city’s peninsula, but with new efforts by regional bureaucrats to keep the boaters and nude swimmers apart.

After hours of presentations, negotiations, petition-signing and feasibility assessments by beach advocates and Metro Vancouver over the past several months, staff have recommended that the district spend up to $20,000 this summer to pay for extra RCMP marine patrols and new signage at the popular nude beach.

“When we looked at all the options available, this was the best,” said Mitch Sokalski, Metro’s division manager for its western parks.

But, in a move sure to provoke renewed skirmishing, the district is also considering whether to create a special access lane to allow boaters to get to the beach.

That has the long-time defenders of Wreck Beach outraged.

“There are places that Jet Skis don’t belong,” said Judy Williams. Wreck Beach is one of them.

Ms. Williams has been advocating for Wreck Beach for more than 30 years, largely through the Wreck Beach Preservation Society founded in 1977.

In that time, she has battled everything from UBC building projects that would have looked out over the beach to a younger generation using the beach for public sex, along with jet-fuel pipelines and occasional talk of taking away the clothing-optional status of the beach.

Ms. Williams thinks there should be no accommodation for the boaters – she calls them “Wreck Beach wannabes.”

“They don’t have any intention of taking their clothes off, they jack up their music and it bounces off the cliffs, they drink.”

Both she and Mr. Sokalski, the overseer since Metro Vancouver took over the park in 1989 from the Vancouver park board, agree there is a definite safety problem.

Boaters typically come out to the tip of the peninsula, where Wreck Beach extends for six kilometres from Jericho Beach on the north side to the Musqueam land on the south.

They end up clustered at what is called the Wreck Beach Trail 6 beach, manoeuvring among the buoys that designate the swimmers-only area.

“There is not a significant number of boats or jet skis but all it takes is one or two incidents,” said Mr. Sokalski.

The Metro Vancouver board is going to vote Friday on his recommendation that the RCMP be asked to do more marine patrols in the area. Only the RCMP, under the Canada Shipping Act, have the authority to control the boaters, he said.

While police might occasionally patrol as part of their shifts, the district may need to pay for a few excursions on busy days

Some of the money from the district will go to pay for extra signage – on land to warn swimmers about the boats, and on the buoys in the water to warn boaters about swimmers.

Mr. Sokalski said the beach can get up to 5,000 visitors on sunny summer days. Ms. Williams put the number at 14,000.

The tension between the two groups has been present for more than a decade.

At one point, Metro staff, Transport Canada and the society spent two years doing surveys and documenting altercations between swimmers and boaters.

Last fall, the society presented a 2,500-name petition to Metro Vancouver, asking for boats and jet skis to be banned from the area.

But Mr. Sokalski’s report noted that Transport Canada doesn’t look favourably on banning boats unless there is demonstrated risk, which the agency didn’t find in the earlier survey.

So Metro won’t apply for a ban, saying that would likely take years and the outcome would be uncertain.

Ms. Williams isn’t accepting that recommendation without a fight, however. She plans to be at Friday’s meeting, making her case yet again.


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