Theft problem climbing at Skaha Bluffs

A rash of break-ins at the parking lot of the Skaha Bluffs may have a bigger economic impact than stolen property.

Theft problem climbing at Skaha Bluffs

With some of the best sport climbing in the country right in Penticton’s backyard, a rash of break-ins at the parking lot of the Skaha Bluffs may have a bigger economic impact than stolen property.

Rolf Rybak, vice president and regional director of the Climber’s Access Society of B.C., is hoping to find a solution to what has become a growing problem, and he is meeting with Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, the RCMP and MLA for Penticton Dan Ashton to come up with a solution.

“Traditionally we’d get transients coming in the spring and leaving in the fall and we’d get a rash of break-ins. Now we’re getting break-ins middle of the summer, early morning hours, late evenings and it seems to be not only are they just stealing stuff from cars, but they are stealing the batteries which causes considerable damage,” Rybak said.

Lock Out Auto Crime community volunteers were out at the Bluffs last week placing notices to keep valuables out of vehicles and providing information to hikers and climbers relating to the break-ins. Police have said they are also increasing patrols.

However, Rybak said there was another break-in over the weekend. He’s looking for a more long-term solution.

“The Climber’s Access Society is looking at seeing whether we can partner with parks, the city and maybe someone else and we could purchase a video camera and maybe have parks manage the video camera. That’s the solution we’d ultimately like to have,” Rybak said.

While increased police presence is a deterrent, the fact that most people are at the Bluffs to hike or climb leaves vehicles vulnerable.

“The big problem is you have tourists from the States or Alberta and they have all their stuff, they can’t carry it with them,” said Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth with the Penticton RCMP.

The security camera would come at a bit of a cost, there’s no power or WiFi in the parking lot, but Rybak is hoping that some partnerships and fundraising efforts will be able to come up with the funds. Though that leaves the question of who will maintain or operate the camera.

“I think that’s going to be the only solution and then signage that says ‘you are being filmed.’ We have to deter theft somehow,” Rybak said.

The thefts have far-reaching impacts according to Rybak, who has received multiple emails from out-of-town climbers who have changed their travel plans because of the break-ins.

Getting a reputation as a hotspot of thefts could have a detrimental effect with tourists on a location which brings in an estimated $4-million of direct and indirect economic input for the city — according to an economic impact study done with the Climber’s Access Society in conjunction with the local climbing community.

“Climbers usually come at the critical shoulder seasons in the spring and the fall. That’s the best time to climb,” Rybak said. “This is the best sport climbing in Canada, we can’t afford to lose climbing business.”

Rybak said he is open to any long-term solutions that come up when he meets with government officials, or any drawbacks to the security camera option. He said he has received nothing but support from the community so far.

“I have to give credit to everyone involved. The RCMP, the mayor and everyone. They are all really concerned that Skaha doesn’t get a reputation as an area where there’s a large amount of crime. They’ve all been working effectively to see if we can find a solution here,” Rybak said.