Valley Trail ’99
Whistler's sewer line companion keeps getting better and better
Photography and Story by Chris Woodall
If the slowdown in Highway 99 traffic to accommodate roadside pipeline work put a kink in your day, consider what kind of harrumphing will be going on when the Valley Trail "highway" gets a similar treatment next year to make it wider and longer.
Whistler's favourite route to get up and down the valley has seen a lot of growth since Pique Newsmagazine looked at our unique walkin', bikin', bladin', skateboardin' thoroughfare three years ago.
It remains a huge visitor favourite, staying ahead of participation in every other outdoor physical activity (even outdoor sex!) and only less popular than dining out and shopping, says the municipality's 1998 summer activity survey.
While 56 per cent of Whistler's two million-plus visitors in the green months say they ventured the Valley Trail in 1998, only 38 per cent of all those visitors stepped out for a hike, 31 per cent bonked along on a bicycle, and despite the roaring business Whistler's golf courses were able to push through last year, only 22 per cent of visiting bipeds swung a club.
The grand old Trail gets a good going over, even in the white months when it is snow ploughed — at least the parts the Muni controls — and continues to provide Whistler's mostly hoofin' it workforce with a quick access to the village without threat of an unwanted curling match against oncoming vehicle traffic.
The Valley Trail was birthed out of the opportunity to take advantage of the space needed to install the licorice-coloured main sewer line connecting the village with the wastewater treatment plant ’way south. Like Topsy, the Trail has been growing and growing ever since.
Sports technology has encouraged a steady increase in Trail traffic. There wasn't much in the way of mountain bikes when the first lengths of the Valley Trail were put in place some 20 years ago. There certainly weren't roller blades. And skateboards hadn't caught the imagination of B.C.'s youthful dudes and dudettes as it does today.
Competing usage has got to the point where volunteer Trail patrollers try to lasso speeders, uncareful dog handlers and generally sort out colliding parties.
When we last "piqued" at the Valley Trail, we reported the Emerald Estates link in the Valley Trail chain was imminent. And there it is: a lengthy and safe stretch of pavement now connects Whistler's northernmost neighbourhood to Alpine Meadows — and more importantly the high school and sports centre — through to points south.
The final pieces of the Valley Trail puzzle are set to be completed in time for the Millennium.
Trail blazers in Muni Hall have had it in mind for a long time that the Valley Trail really should be the "Valley Loop." It should be possible for Trail-a-philes to hop on the route pretty much anywhere and go around the world, as it were, ending up at the beginning.
For most of those years, "ending up at the beginning" was a theory that was only seen in better children's fairy tails. The stumbling block was paving a section through the Lost Lake area.
Oh! how the Lost Lake forest gremlins, trolls and other tree-hugging creatures came out in their legions to protest any thoughts of blacktopping that part of the Valley Trail system.
But where there's a will, there's a planning solution, says Rule #6 in the top-secret "Municipal Planner's Guide to Get Around Anything."
(Rule #1 is: "Municipal staff are always right, no matter how 'differently correct' they may subsequently prove to be."
Rule #2 is: "When questioned on detail, offer to 'send it back to staff' for more study.")
In this case, development of the Spruce Grove subdivision and the Mons campground have made it possible to complete the Valley Trail loop.
By the end of next summer, a section running behind the Shoestring Lodge in White Gold, along the highway to the Spruce Grove neighbourhood turnoff, and around behind the Mons campground over to Nicklaus North golf course will be paved, says Whistler parks planning manager Jan Jansen.
"Nicklaus North is on the hook to do an underpass at the railway bridge (by Fitzsimmons Creek)," Jansen says of the northern end of this latest addition.
Noting how popular and sometimes congested the Valley Trail has become, Muni staff have started on one project to try to accommodate more users, and have another solution in mind.
"We'll be widening the Valley Trail from Meadow Park to the Whistler Golf Course parking lot," Jansen explains of improvements that will see surveying done this year for construction next year in a two-step phase.
Phase one includes the Trail from the golf course parking lot north to Crabapple Road. Phase two continues from this point to Meadow Park.
The idea is to provide something like a passing lane for fleet travellers. "We've got to stay within the trail right-of-way, but we'll get a better sense of the topography," Jansen says of this revamped section. "We've got some pretty tight corners and bumps along the Trail right now."
Trail commuters — be they heading north, fitness centre-bound or elementary school-bound south from Alpine Meadows — will be rewarded with a new and more direct route "sometime in the next couple of years," Jansen says.
The idea is to cross the River of Golden Dreams at the sports centre, where a skeleton of a wooden bridge currently exists, then skirt the highway south, cross over the railway tracks where motor vehicles also literally take the high road, then scoot across private bush property to the Myrtle Philip Community School soccer fields.
Negotiating rights-of-way, or outright land acquisition, through the privately-held lands will determine a more accurate trail blazing time frame, Jansen advises.
Add to that the south-end plans to link West Side Road across BC Rail's right-of-way to the current Valley Trail.
And did we say these are the "final" pieces to the Valley Trail system of snakes and ladders? Well, okay we did, but that would be ignoring future plans to bring orphaned Function Junction into the Trail family. Trail connections are also integral to Intrawest’s Whistler South plans. Someday, it is whispered, the Valley Trail will guide us even unto Brandywine Falls.
It's worth a ride, walk, run, blade, skate, snowshoe, or X-ski to check it out.