Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Turning Tides – Lew Chater

Turning Tides – Lew Chater
By Trevor Shpeley

If there is one thing you learn from a lifetime of being the principle of some of the Fraser Valleys toughest schools, it's that all you need to get the ball rolling on any worthwhile project is something that really needs doing and a few people with the will to get it started. Lew Chater learned that lesson well and along with Rodney Hsu, Chris Gadsen, Terry Bodman and a few others started the Chilliwack River Clean-up Coalition and set to work picking up garbage at one of the lower mainland's busiest fishing destinations.

The Chiliwack River, also known as the Vedder below Vedder Crossing, is less than an hours drive from two and a half million people, many of whom flock there every year to partake in the world class salmon and steelhead fishing. Most of those people treat the river and surrounding forest with the respect it deserves but unfortunately many do not.

The Chiliwack river wasn't always such a popular destination. In 1944 when Lew moved to the Fraser Valley from Alberta a trip up the river was a bumpy all-day ride in his fathers old Model-T Ford. As a boy he would spend his days happily fishing the river for trout with a steel rod and an old tin reel. It wasn't until the 1960's that the steelhead fishing really started to pick up and the hordes of fishermen followed.

A lot of water has flowed down the river in the six decades Lew has lived on it's banks but it became clear with the dawning of the new millennium that all was not well with Lew's beloved river. Everything from stolen cars to huge abandoned squatter camps and grow-op debris were piling up on the otherwise pristine riverside and in 2002, Lew and the others decided to do something about it.

To date the CRCC has logged 35 river clean up days totaling over 20,000 volunteer hours. 400 people have participated and 24 service groups have adopted sections of the river to clean and maintain the river access and empty the garbage cans they have placed along the riverside trails. The city of Chiliwack, the Fraser Valley Regional District and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are big supporters of Lew's project and they supply such things as tipping fees at the dump, garbage bags, signage and a small amount of funding so the coalition can afford things like liability insurance for their clean-up days.

So far Lew and company have picked up over 70 tonnes of garbage from the river banks and it's impossible to walk the river and not see the difference the CRCC has made. Lew has also noticed that there are far fewer thoughtless fishermen visiting the river and tossing their garbage around than there was before they started. People seem to feel more guilty throwing their garbage down on clean ground than they did when litter was everywhere. As Lew likes to say, he has never met a single person that admitted to being a litter bug and looking down at the ground and seeing your own garbage makes it tough to deny to yourself that what you are doing is wrong. The attitude battle is still being fought but progress is being made and nothing could make Lew happier since education has always been one of his main goals.

At a spry 73 years old Lew still finds the time and energy to fish the river 40 days a year and help organize the ongoing efforts of the coalition. His son is grown now and fishes the Chiliwack more often than his dad and Lew has noticed that even his two grandchildren have taken up the cause, constantly reminding Lew that littering is wrong and helping to pick up garbage when they see it. Lew still lives in the house on the river he has shared with his wife for nearly 50 years and spends about 75 days in his RV fishing the lakes of the interior every season.

Lew would be the first to tell you that he didn't form the CRCC on his own nor has he done all the work but there would be no denying that he has been a driving force since the beginning and continues doing so to this day, for no other reason than the great love he carries for the river and the desire to steward the land for future generations. Hats off to Lew Chater and those like him who remind us of what we should be doing and showing us how easy it is to get it done.

If you know somebody that should be recognized in this column, please write me at trevor.shpeley@gmail.com

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