A Whistler-based firm is playing a key role in the completion of a nationwide trail network that's expected to link the country coast to coast.
Cascade Environmental Resource Group, an environmental consulting company based in Function Junction, is helping to complete the Trans-Canada Trail, a long-term project that, at 22,500 kilometres, is pegged as the world's longest network of trails.
Once completed, the non-motorized trail is expected to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, traversing 1,000 communities and 34 million Canadians. The trail itself is expected to be made up of over 400 community trails with different features and landscapes.
Dave Williamson, one of Cascade's principals, said the company was brought on when some of the Trans-Canada Trail's work around Geographical Information Systems (GIS) needed help.
"Their big GIS, which is the lifeblood of the thing, figuring out where the trail is, was in a bit of disarray," he said in an interview. "They had one guy working away in Montreal trying to manage it, he was kind of overwhelmed, as well they had some outstanding commitments to the federal government, they needed someone to come back and get them organized."
Jim Bishop, the board chair of the Trans-Canada Trail and a member of the Sea to Sky Trail's steering committee, recommended that Cascade come on to complete the GIS work, which would involve "gap analysis" to help them figure out where the Trans-Canada Trail was missing pieces.
Representatives from the Trans-Canada Trail sat down with Ryan Coatta, a GIS specialist with Cascade, and together they came up with an idea of precisely where the trail could go.
"Some provinces had a pretty good idea, other provinces really didn't know," Williamson said. "So we sat down with each of the provinces and Ryan put together this really cool little analytical tool where we identified dangling trails, these gaps in the trails, and basically what he did was he put out circles that connected to the ends of each of the unconnected sections of the trail.
"We had everybody in the office working on it. There was over 200 gaps across the country."
From there, Cascade came up with satellite mapping software that allowed them to export the gap analysis into Google Earth. The company could then identify gap circles while looking at aerial photos underneath and then come up with a route that would work.
Cascade then put together a template that allowed it to generate costs for completing the trail. Cascade discovered that there were approximately 6,000 kilometres of trail solutions necessary to connect the Trans-Canada Trail.
"We came up with a budget in the neighbourhood of $90 million for the stuff we identified," Williamson said.
Cascade's assistance with mapping the trail helped the foundation that's overseeing its development put together a special feature that ran in the Globe and Mail on Canada Day. The feature shows that the trail is 73 per cent complete with 200 gaps remaining. The goal is to achieve a fully connected trail by 2017 - the 25th anniversary of the Trans-Canada Trail initiative and the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
A map provided as part of the feature showed that some provinces are more prepared than others. British Columbia is 75 per cent connected, while Newfoundland and Labrador is 100 per cent connected, Quebec is 96 per cent connected and Prince Edward Island 93 per cent connected. Saskatchewan lies at the low end of connectivity at 38 per cent.
Trails to be used in British Columbia as part of the Trans-Canada Trail include the Sea to Sky Trail, which traverses from Horseshoe Bay to Squamish but is also expected to stretch into Whistler and Pemberton.
Jim Bishop said in an interview that completion of the Trans-Canada Trail involves a lot of work in provinces such as Saskatchewan, where the trail is expected to route through many rural settings. Finishing the trail, however, requires a major infusion of cash.
"We're on a campaign to raise $150 million, which will effectively come from various government bodies on a matching basis," he said. "We're going to use that money to tie those gaps together so we're all ready by 2017, connected across the country.
"Any money left over, in a project this size, that's a bit of a guess, we think we'll probably have enough money left to, in the realm of $50 million, where you can invest that wisely and use that for maintenance and development into the future."
Cascade, he said, was "instrumental" in designing the project properly.
"We did pay for it, but I'm almost positive that Dave didn't make money on it," Bishop said. "He's as much in love with this project as the board is, he thinks it's a great Canadian project."
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