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Rough road to Mission’s Zajac Ranch requires paving, says founder

‘Tretcherous,’ pothole-filled logging road has seen massive traffic increase for recreational use
Florence Lake Forest Service Road’s (in black) access to Zajac Ranch. District of Mission photo.

The increasing popularity of a pothole-filled logging road on the westside of Stave Lake has left it in desperate need of paving, according to the founder and camp director of Zajac Ranch.

The eight-kilometre Florence Lake Forest Service Road is managed by the province to serve the forestry industry – but it also provides access to numerous campgrounds and is constantly used recreationally by 4x4 enthusiasts.

Zajac Ranch is a children’s camp which serves more than a thousand kids every year who have medical conditions.

Mel Zajac, the camp’s 93-year-old founder, said he’s been trying to get the road paved for 16 years now, but in the last five years, increased use has worn it down to the point of being dangerous.

“There must have been two foot holes in there yesterday,” Zajac said. “We can’t operate [properly] in the fall and spring … If I won the sweepstakes, I’d pave it myself.”

The road is re-gravelled every couple of months by the District of Mission at a huge cost, said Vera Pina, camp director.

She said each season comes with challenges.

“In the winter, the rain makes the potholes much deeper … In the summer, you’ve got all the dust that rises, so often you cannot see while you’re on the roads,” Pina said. “We had a cloud over the ranch of just constant dust.”

Pina said both conditions end up hurting the kids: journeying up the “treacherous” road is upsetting and disturbing for the many of the children with autism and downs syndrome; while children with breathing problems suffer from the dust clouds in the summer.

The problem is the road keeps getting more and more popular, Zajac said. He said the District of Mission recorded over 156,000 vehicles using the road last year, and with COVID-19 shuttering many other popular destination spots, even more vehicles are using the road.

Data collected from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development Contacts show traffic increased 80 per cent in the vicinity of Zajac Ranch from January to April of last year.

The re-gravelling efforts are quite literally swept away when the 4x4ers speed up the road or perform doughnut maneuvers, according to Pina.

She said she has spent thousands fixing her vehicle, with everything from flat tires to suspension problems.

“Right now, it’s horrendous. I actually just broke my car again,” Pina said. “There’s areas where you can just drive around the potholes, but there’s other areas where there’s just so many of them on the bridges and you have no options.”

Accidents are a frequent problem on the road, with emergency crews often having to use the camp’s fields for their rescue operations, Pina said.

Staff created a petition to pave the road on Sept. 14, and its collected over 800 signatures, many from the concerned parents of campers.

Pina said when she posted the petition to Facebook, there was backlash from the recreational 4x4ers, who enjoy the rough terrain over paved roads and claimed the camp had lots of money.

“We’re a non-profit, obviously we do not charge … We are not some fancy private business, we’re serving the community” Pina said. “[The camp] puts Mission on the map, because kids come from all over Canada.”

Staff want the province, and the community, to recognize the need for paving as “it’s no longer just a logging road anymore.”

“Everybody in Mission knows this area now,” Pina said. “The idea that this [road] is a well-kept secret went out the window a long time ago.”

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