By Bob Barnett
From the 5,500 foot level of the Skywalk Trail, on the flanks of Rainbow Mountain, hikers will be able to see the Tantalus Mountain range, Black Tusk, Wedge Mountain and Fissile. However, the view for hikers will come at the expense of heli-skiers, who will likely lose Rainbow Mountain as a ski area when the current tenure expires.
These kinds of tradeoffs are, in essence, what the new Forest Recreation Plan is all about.
Adopted by Whistler council two weeks ago, the Forest Recreation Plan proposes an ambitious schedule of recreation uses for the area surrounding the Whistler Valley. It is intended to harmonize the various uses and users of the backcountry — including forestry companies — and to work with B.C. Lands' Commercial Backcountry Recreation Policy, which is expected to be unveiled in the next month or two.
"Both motorized and non-motorized activities can be accommodated within the Whistler LRUP (Local Resource Use Plan) if appropriate zoning is applied," the introduction to the Forest Recreation Plan reads. The plan contains "guidelines through which all recreational activities can be enjoyed with minimal user conflicts."
The Forest Recreation Plan had its genesis in the 1987 Local Resource Use Plan, the first plan of its type to take into account aesthetic values by prohibiting clearcut logging in areas visible from the Whistler Valley and Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains.
"The LRUP blurs the municipal boundaries, to some degree," says forestry consultant Don MacLaurin. It allows the municipality and the Squamish Forest District to work together toward long-term recreation plans. The Forest Recreation Plan sets out those plans in detail. They affect private and commercial snowmobile operators, mountain bikers, hikers, heli-ski operators and forestry companies.
An annual report will be prepared by the LRUP Recreation Committee, identifying activities in the area. When any forest harvesting is to be considered in the LRUP area the company or licensee must submit its plans for a review with the recreational uses of the LRUP area in mind. Any new logging roads in the area must be constructed with consideration for future recreational use.
The Forest Recreation Plan divides the LRUP area into nine zones: Brandywine Valley, Cal-Cheak/Daisy Lake, Cheakamus Valley, Callaghan Valley, Madely, 21 Mile Valley, 19 Mile Valley, 16 Mile Valley, and Wedge. It identifies current users, access routes, recreation potential, fishing habitat and resources (such as trails and campsites) in each zone and makes recommendations for proposed actions.
One of the key points of the plan is to keep mechanized commercial activity out of the 21 Mile Valley zone — Whistler’s primary watershed. That’s why the plan recommends the heli-skiing tenure on Rainbow Mountain not be renewed and heli-hiking in the area be prohibited. It also recommends 19 Mile Valley be protected as a future watershed, although this recommendation is in conflict with the Forest District, which would like to see some logging in the area.
Not all commercial operators are in agreement with all the details of the plan, either, although they will likely be more affected by the Commercial Backcountry Policy when it is announced.
What is shaping up to be an issue is access to some zones, now that the Forest Practices Code is in effect.
"The Forest Practices Code requires deactivation of all roads after logging has been completed," MacLaurin says. "In the Brandywine area deactivation would severely limit access."
Deactivation can range from making a road difficult for a two-wheel drive vehicle to wiping out any sign of a road bed. Roads make up about 7 per cent of a harvestable area and in some circumstances it can cost more than $1,000 an acre to deactivate roads.
In the case of Brandywine, where commercial and private snowmobile operators use logging roads to access the alpine in the winter and an ATV company uses the roads in the summer, complete deactivation of some roads would curtail established recreational activities. In the case of the Madely Lake area the plan recommends the access road be upgraded and maintained to two-wheel drive access up to the Madely Lake landing, before the first creek crossing, and then deactivated to a hiking trail. This is the area where the greatest system of trails is proposed.
Situated between the 5,000 and 6,000 foot levels, the proposed Skywalk Trail will be part of a network of hiking trails linking the 16 Mile Creek area with 19 Mile Creek, 21 Mile Creek, the Madely Lake area and the Callaghan Valley.
At a lower level, the proposed Mid-Altitude Trail will be designated primarily for mountain biking, connecting the 16 Mile Valley with the Callaghan Valley on a network of abandoned logging roads and new sections of trail.
MacLaurin is hoping to convince the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association to participate in building the Mid-Altitude Trail. The Whistler Rotary Club has worked on the Madely Lake Trail in recent years and some work is underway now on improvements to the Rainbow Trail, including the installation of outhouses and designated campsites. Under the LRUP both the municipality and the Forest District must contribute funding to recreation improvements, but major trail construction likely won’t start until the municipal Parks and Recreation Department has finished paying for the arena and pool facilities at Meadow Park.
So, while hiking is regularly listed by a majority of Whistler’s summer visitors as an activity they do, it will be some time before they experience the views from Skywalk Trail.