February 25, 2016 - 8:00 PM
JOHNSON LAKE - If you’re thinking of traveling to one of last year’s more popular destinations in the Thompson area, remind yourself there is such a thing as loving something to death.
After an online post about Johnson Lake — a 400-hectare sleepy backwoods waterbody near Barriere — went viral last year, tourists flocked to the area in droves to see its turquoise colours and white shoals.
Jim and Barb Lewko, the owners of Johnson Lake Resort, agree it’s the prettiest lake in the province but add the huge number of visitors in 2015 was like an invasion.
“Because we own our place here we pretty much had control of what was going on. Our situation was more strictly an invasion issue that happened. There wasn’t really any damage here at this end (of the lake). It all really happened down at the far end,” Jim says.
Burned out chairs, mattresses, used condoms and beer bottles were only some of the items left alongside and in the lake. Jim says a small forestry camp opposite the resort got the worst of it after campers hacked 13 new camping spots in the bush and made campfires on the forest floor — some of which had to be put out by his staff.
Jim says up to 500 people would visit the camp on the other end of the lake and adds there were only two outhouses to accommodate them. The Lewko’s eight-cabin resort is small with just enough amenities for a maximum of 50 people.
Both remember the date when Johnson Lake took off on social media.
“When this thing went viral on May 24, the first thing that happened was phone calls and emails had gone from maybe five or ten a day to 300,” Jim says. “I think we had about 2,400 inquiries in the first week. We basically shut down our operation. We didn’t have time to take any new bookings."
Beyond bookings came the appearance of new visitors to the lake.
“There were just hundreds and hundreds of people walking around here. The roads were completely blocked off (with vehicles). We couldn’t even get down to the lake to launch a boat. That’s what I mean by invasion. They just came in such a huge volume, we couldn’t control it."
Jim adds many of the lake-goers came to the area looking for a beach which doesn't exist and remembers people making the 10-hour drive from Fort St. John just to catch a quick glimpse of Johnson.
“We’ve had multiple people come up from the coast just to see the lake and then drive home again. It’s just crazy,” he says. "Somehow on social media, the impression was that there was a beautiful white sandy beach and I was walking around with a tray full of beer and everyone thought they were in the Caribbean. People were very disappointed when that didn’t happen. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet folks."
The Lewko’s and one other person manage the property, which Jim says will have some increased security in case the same amount of visitors come this year. The couple is calling on the province to make some professional looking signage to advise visitors what is and isn’t allowed in the area.
INFOnews.ca requested an interview with Noelle Kekula who supervises the east end of the lake, but it was declined by the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations staff. A spokesperson for the ministry emailed a statement which said Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. manages the site and have blocked access to the boat ramp to prevent motorized boats with over 10 horsepower usage on the lake. Limitations on parking are also in the works and no significant damage was reported last year.
Fisheries biologist Steve Maricle says limited boat access will help prevent damage to the waterbody. He notes multiple vessels could stir up the fine sediments at the bottom of the lake, which would take away its clarity.
“The wave action would stir that up. You don’t want it to happen; the lake has beautiful colouration,” he says.
Should that happen, visitors would no longer be able to see the bottom of the lake as they can now. While there are no white sandy beaches, Maricle says the lake’s white shoals could brown from boating waves.
“You would have the pollution of the boats, both the gas and any human waste. The shoals could turn brown when you wash that deposit off. Then the wave action (of boats) could impact shorebirds and could flood nests."
"You can love something to death and that certainly can happen,” he says.
For more information on Johnson Lake, check out the province's recreation sites and trails' website.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016