For much of the year, RCMP Cpl. Ed Dewijn is a general duty officer patrolling the streets of Chilliwack.
It’s a lively beat that keeps him on his toes, but there are days when Dewijn cruises down Yale Road, casts a glance at the mountains and yearns to be out in the back country. Raised in Smithers, a small rural town in northwestern B.C., there’s nothing he loves more than being surrounded by towering trees – listening to songbirds, wind rustling through branches and the relaxing sound of a gently flowing creek.
That’s why he loves this time of year so much.
For a few months in late spring and summer, Dewijn takes a seasonal role in ‘outdoor policing,’ trading in the streets of Chilliwack for the natural beauty of Cultus Lake, Chilliwack Lake Road and Harrison Lake.
“There are so many nice spots that remind me of Smithers,” Dewijn says with a smile. “There are really nice valleys, rivers and waterfalls in the Harrison East area. If you go up the Bench Forest service road, you get this nice panorama of the Vedder River Valley from one end to the other and it’s just an amazing view.”
Calls for help can take Dewijn and his RCMP colleagues deep into the back country, on barely passable roads and trails.
“Some of these back roads go for hundreds of kilometres,” he said. “Some of the roads in Harrison go almost all the way to Squamish and Whistler. If you take the back roads around Chilliwack Lake you can come out at Manning Park. The roads are terrible for the most part, which keeps a lot of people out, but theoretically you can go a long way.”
It is possible for the rescuers to need rescuing if they’re not cautious on narrow, poorly maintained, pothole-filled roads.
“Near Harrison Lake the road just drops quite a ways down to the lake with no barricades to protect you,” Dewijn said. “You’ve got to be on your toes and I tell myself, ‘I’m the guy coming to the rescue and I’ve got to get there safely.
“We have pretty good vehicles, but it also comes down to experience and knowing how to handle those roads. I’m newer to the area, but fortunately we have experienced people on our team who know the ins and outs of those roads.”
Dealing with wildlife is a big part of the job description in outdoor policing.
In late May, Dewijn responded to an incident at Cultus Lake, where a cougar had holed up in someone’s yard.
“It was only as far away as me to that tree there,” Dewijn said, pointing to one about 12 feet away. “That was pretty exciting.”
On any call that takes him deep into the forest, the officer may encounter anything from cougars to bears, coyotes to deer.
“That’s another one that comes back to personal experience, and if you’ve spent any time in the bush hunting or fishing or hiking, you know the little things not to do,” Dewijn said. “Don’t have a bag of food on your back or do anything to attract animals that might be dangerous. Keep your head on a swivel in certain areas. Keep your eyes open.”
When consistently good weather finally arrives, Dewijn hopes outdoor enthusiasts will use common sense on their adventures, so they don’t require his services.
But if past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour, he knows people will do things they shouldn’t do, and find themselves in a tough spot.
“If you’re out hiking, know where you’re going, tell people where you’re going and have the proper equipment to do what you’re doing,” Dewijn said. “Have things like a charged cell phone, a whistle, bear spray and food. A lot of people don’t bring anything. They’re in flip flops and shorts, ready to go on a six hour hike.”
“If you’re going on a boat, don’t drink and boat. Have a life jacket and wear the life jacket.”
“Understand what you’re getting into before you get into it. That’s probably my best advice.”
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