KAMLOOPS — It's a battle for the right of British Columbians, to have access to lakes and fish on privately owned property. The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club has filed another lawsuit against the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, this time to include Corbett Lake in the Merritt area. The club has already sued the company, owned by an American billionaire, for its attempts to keep members of the public from fishing on Minnie and Stoney Lakes. BC Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves has yet to rule on that matter. The club is taking this to court for future generations, something the provincial government is unwilling to do.
It's a dispute that spans more than three decades. A dispute over public access to prominent fishing lakes near Merritt, and a contentious civil case that's made its way to BC Supreme Court.
"In the Merritt area alone there's over 30 lakes that are locked to the public and aren't supposed to be, and if you quantify that to British Columbia, there's probably a few thousand, and if we lose this lawsuit, the locks are going up on all of them," says Rick McGowan, Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club.
For years, the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club has been fighting Douglas Lake Cattle Company for its attempt to claim private use of Minnie Lake and Stoney Lake. Now, a new lawsuit, to include yet another popular fishing destination.
"In the last four or five years, we've started protest fishing at Corbett Lake because Douglas Lake Cattle Company entered into evidence in the first case that Corbett Lake is a legal private fishery on a public lake, so we had to prove that it's not a legal private fishery, it's a public lake and another rich entrepreneur is trying to setal it."
A series of "No Parking" signs near Corbett Lake have been put up, in what Rick McGowan feels is another sneaky way of keeping the public away. Worried a land swap is in the works, the club is using this latest lawsuit as a proactive approach.
"We have a suspicion they're going to do the same thing at Corbett Lake because to close a public road which the boat launch goes to the lake, you have to do what's called a road closure process, the only way the government can avoid doing that is a land swap." If they did actually go ahead with land swap, the public is hooped forever."
Since the mid-'80s the gates leading to Minnie and Stoney Lakes have been locked up, and it's been a fight between fishermen and the ranch ever since. The lengthy battle has forced the Fish and Game Club to dig deep into their pockets.
"We're into the first lawsuit for over $150,000 and right now we're looking at $40,000 to get this one started and ya our club can't afford it and we'll be fundraising again and asking the public to help us out."
Focused on future generations, the club has no plans to quit. They say they won't just sit back and watch what they call a corrupt and illegal situation unfold.
"Our club voted unanimously to try and make a difference, when we go out the other end of the trail to leave this country a little better for our grandkids, and that's the purpose of why we're doing it," says McGowan.
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