Valley Trail busy season merits caution
Share the trail, leash those mutts
By Chris Woodall
Please, no road rage on the Valley Trail.
Arguably Whistler's most innovative resort amenity has now become so busy that bladers, hikers, bikers, runners, and other variants are being asked to take a reality check: Share the trail.
That message can't be emphasized enough, say municipal Parks staff, pointing to the "triangle of etiquette" posted at many trail junctions: whether biker, blader or skateboarder, pedestrians get the right-of-way.
There's lots of trail out there, but every year there are more users, more than 550,000 per year now. Indeed, the Valley Trail has for some years become something of an unmotorized highway for commuters.
Employee-type commuters use the trail to get to the mountains. There are school-bound commuters, shopping-bound commuters, and a whole world of folks who depend on the Valley Trail to keep them in fighting trim.
Today the trail's paved kilometres connect Creekside with (new this year) Emerald Estates.
There are a lot of "vehicles" that the original trail did not build for nearly 20 years ago.
In-line skates were unheard of, and bicycles had 10 gears and skinny tires.
"The trail was never built with rollerbladers in mind," says Bob Kusch of the speeds that bladers can get on some sections, but without the stopping power to handle speed well.
"At least bicycles have brakes and cyclists do wear helmets," he says.
One new toy that is a definite no-no is the motorized skateboard. They are starting to appear in Whistler, municipal staff say, and are considered a motorized — and therefore illegal — vehicle if they venture trailward.
Speed is the biggest factor in trail mishaps, say municipal staff.
"One part of the Parks bylaw is that there is no racing on the trail, individually or in groups," says Bylaw officer Sandra Smith.
Several levels of patrollers on bicycles will try to keep speed demons in slow-mo, and caution trail users in other ways.
Bylaw and RCMP officers will both have two-wheeled beats on the trail, but the backbone of the trail patrol are the volunteers, who make their rounds on weekends.
The volunteer trail patrol began three years ago and is hoping to add youth patrollers to its roster of eight regulars, says co-ordinator Simon Hudson.
They can't hand out tickets like the Mounties or Bylaw riders can, but the advice they've handed out to slow down, keep dogs on a short leash and other safety tips have earned them some respect, Hudson says. "In our first year (1996) a lot of people didn't respect the volunteer patrollers, but the second year was much better."
The trail has grown quite a bit in the past year, finally adding the Nordic Estates highway overpass and the paved link to Emerald Estates.
Future plans are to widen some portions of the Valley Trail to recognize the high volumes of traffic it handles.
There is a weak link in the chain, too.
The municipality is itching to pave a portion of the Lost Lake loop to connect the village with Meadow Park/Green Lake section of the Valley Trail. Municipal staff say paving this link would take a lot of traffic away from other paved trails.
A small but vocal group have so far but the kibosh on those plans, claiming the environment would be harmed.
Speaking of the environment, there are poop ’n scoop boxes for individuals to clean up after pets.
Humans have been unkind to the trail, too, riding off-trail thinking they are creating a mountain bike adventure when all they're doing is ripping up sensitive forest undergrowth.
Trail maintenance workers say if you get into the bush, you'll see all kinds of things people fling away. One item people tend to chuck into the trail side without thinking is their cigarette butts. A fire along the Lost Lake portion of the Valley Trail last year proved that wayward lit cigarettes can cause trouble.
Dogs, and their owners, have shown to be the single biggest cause of accidents on the Valley Trail.
Municipal stats showed that dogs off leashes caused 18 per cent of all trail hassles, by far the biggest category. Slow skaters and cyclists accounted for 11 per cent of trail trouble.
Even dogs on leashes — especially the Whistler myth that a dog carrying its own leash is within the law — can be ticketable if the owner isn't showing proper care and control of the animal, Smith advises.
Dog owners should never assume their dog is Whistler's best friend.
"A lot of people are afraid of dogs," says Kusch. "Dog owners always think their dog is playful. It may be with them, but not with others."
Dogs being dogs, following their nose on and off the trail may mean popping back onto the trail just in front of a ripping blader flapping his arms as he glides down the centreline.
Anything can happen if common sense doesn't prevail.
"The trail's for everyone," Kusch says.