Nearly a year-and-a-half after the first organized protest for access to the fishing waters at Douglas Lake Ranch, the road is still blocked and anglers are preparing to take legal action.

Ed Hendricks, owner of Ponderosa Sports, and member of the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club, said lawyers have told his focus group that the Douglas Lake Cattle Co. is obligated to provide access because the lakes are on public roads.

“We will take them to court one day,” he said. “Lawyers basically say it’s a simple case and it’s just a matter of doing it. They just have to force the hand of the government to do something.”

While the group can’t afford legal costs, he said they are attempting to attain funds through the B.C. Wildlife Federation. But after a tied vote at the federation in the spring, the motion was put off until next year.

Some members of the Federation are seeking a $2 membership levy to help fund provisional access to lakes throughout the province.

The fund would garner approximately $80,000 per year.

Last week, the federation met again to try to come to terms over a new course of action. They agreed to create a preliminary plan to set up a fund for legal action.

“I was told by lawyers that Douglas Lake Ranch will be required to pay fines backdating to the two or three decades that the road was blocked off,” Hendricks said.

Legal action is a last resort for protestors, who have already attempted to find help from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation.

In a letter to the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club, the Ministry states the road was never “formally dedicated.”

“Based on our thorough review of records, the ministry cannot produce sufficient evidence to support a legal claim that the old Stoney Lake Road was a public thoroughfare,” the letter says. “In addition, the discontinued Stoney Lake Road did not provide direct access to either Stoney or Minnie lakes, as the lands surrounding these lakes were and remain private under the Land Title Act.”

However, in a 1998 letter sent to a Merritt man from the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, the road is described as public. Also, a road-features inventory for highways maintenance contracting lists Stoney Lake Road as a location that is receiving maintenance at the expense of taxpayers.

And according to local man Rick McGowan, a retired highways engineer who surveyed the same road on which the access is blocked, the lake and the road leading up to it are public.

He was the man who raised the issue and wrote the first protest letter to Douglas Lake Cattle in 1996.

McGowan was away and not available for an interview before press time, but he told the Globe and Mail in April: “I surveyed all those roads. That’s how I know they are public.”

The government is spending money on the road’s upkeep, he added.

As Section 42 of the B.C. Transportation Act states: “If public money is spent on a travelled road that is not a highway, the travelled road is deemed and declared to be a highway.”

“It’s not like they don’t know it’s a public road,” Hendricks added.

Despite the gate remaining locked, the group refused to be stopped, and this spring they smashed the lock in order to fish the lake.

“No one gave us any problems when we were there,” Hendricks said. “Local police told us that if we stay on that road right-of-way and on the lake, that they won’t be bothering us.”

Still, people of the Nicola Valley are growing more upset with the restriction to the fishing, bird watching, hiking and hunting.

Several other lakes are locked at the Douglas Lake Cattle Co., Canada’s largest operating cattle ranch, owned by American E. Stanley Kroenke, who is worth about $2.9 billion.

The ranch’s manager, Joe Gardner, is on record in June as saying roads existing after 1884 didn’t provide access to the lakes. He also said at the time that ranch management won’t charge people for trespassing because it’s such a small fine – $115.

The cattle company owns over 200,000 hectares of land and nearly 20,000 head of cattle.

The property is divided into 67,000 deeded hectares and 140,000 hectares of Crown land, held under a lease. The Crown land is where the fishers want access.

Minnie Lake has been developed by the ranching company into a top trophy trout lake.

While the lake is public, the land around the area is private – excluding the roads, depending on who you ask.

Stoney Lake is also a sought-after fishing spot, where one night in a lodge costs $319.

The ranch is able to offer exclusive fishing packages by blocking access.

Hendricks said his team is also approaching environmental groups to investigate the ranch stocking the lake, which could be causing the spread of disease.