Whistler's Parks 'R' Us
Whether you're a jock, rubbernecker or nuclear unit, Whistler’s parks provide a range of outdoor spaces catering to the joy zones of just about anyone
Parks for you and
Parks for me
Parks for Buddy down the street
Parks for fish and fowl and bears
Parks to ease away your cares
– anonymous sunbather dude
Photography and story by Chris Woodall
Whistler's mayor, Hugh O'Reilly, not only breathes a sigh of relief every so often these days, but he has a big vote-saving grin on his chops each time he wanders by the nicely popular water park in Village North.
No doubt the bosses at Whistler’s Parks-N-Rec department are equally pleased.
Ever since the project — and its $2.7 million price tag — was given a high five by council a few years ago, a lot of grumbling could be heard from all quarters of Whistler. The planned corridor of basalt columns, shrubbery and fountains cutting west across the resort from Blackcomb Way to the oddly-named Main Street and onward to the west side of Northlands Boulevard was too outlandish, the grousers said, too expensive, too not needed in our wee town when there were so many other things the municipality could spend the money on… or simply not spend the money at all.
"We took a lot of heat for that project," O'Reilly says on reflection of the constant whinings about disruption to business that construction of the park caused.
The nay-sayers have zipped their lips, for the most part. Helped in large part by the interactive brass sculptures on the arched bridge, Village Park has proved to be an enviable addition to what makes Whistler a four-season attraction to the world.
Mobs of visitors have been pulling up short to spin, ogle or test the sculptures on their way from one end of town to the other.
Indeed, the over-all scope of Whistler's park system has matured to a point where development is complete, for the most part, to provide a range of outdoor spaces catering to the joy zones of just about anyone.
There is the "urban park" we have just talked about in Village Park providing relief for visiting shopaholics.
For the jocks among us — and god but there are legions of them! — there is Spruce Grove Park, with its jewelry collection of baseball diamonds, and Meadow Park's fitness facility and pro hockey ice rink.
For families, sun worshippers and general layabouts, there are major casual parks like the increasingly sought after Rainbow Park nestled along the far shore of Alta Lake.
There are nature zones, like Lost Lake Park, where all kinds of "get natural" activities occur, from gettin' nekkid to, ahem, other kinds of bird watching.
And for "jes plain folks" there are neighbourhood parklets strung along the resort valley to offer up a quiet spot to read the great Canadian novel… or to write one of your own.
The thing of it is, Whistler has not only dreamed up these green spaces and given them artsy drawings to represent them in airy-fairy master "vision" plans, but those parks are a reality. They are complete.
For those of us who have watched Whistler's park system grow, the signal that it had reached a plateau of maturity was seen in construction of plumbed and electrified washroom facilities at Rainbow and Meadow Parks.
Flush toilets! Hooray!
Granted, a park's toilets may seem to be, at first study, an odd thing to celebrate unless you remember the wooden stinky holes complete with hordes of mosquitoes, flies and other creepy crawly companions that serviced the park experience until lately.
It's like the difference between cloth and paper napkins in an average restaurant. Your pasta carbonara just automatically tastes better with a cloth napkin on your lap… the sunburn from the beach feels so much more satisfying without the horror of having to resort to a chemical john part way through your day.
Parks development isn't over, but it's pretty much there, acknowledges Keith Bennett, parks superintendent.
"The real driving force in the early years was just to get the facilities out there," Bennett says. As a result, "some of our parks were pretty rough for a while, but most of the major parks are now in place.
"We're now going around and finishing the parks off," Bennett says of what's been going on this year to clean up entrances and pathways to Whistler's green assets.
That's not so say there aren't plans to do more in a major way.
Isolated neighbourhood spaces like Wayside Park will get smaller style flush toilets.
Rainbow Park will get a concession building next to Alta Lake Road — tentatively called the Rainbow Lodge Teahouse — on the site where the last private owners of the Rainbow lands had a collection of buildings, but Bennett says this project won't get off the drawing board for a few years yet.
What the municipality will do with the Emerald Forest lands rests entirely on how that issue is resolved. Go ahead: hold your breath.
The most significant immediate project, Bennett says, is next year renovating the steepled former KOA building at Spruce Grove into something more than its current use as an eyesore.
The most far-off project is turning the Parkhurst ghost town on the east side of Green Lake into a municipal park.
The one-time logging mill town land is privately owned. "The municipality has its eyes on it, but no plans to purchase it," says Jan Jansen, parks manager.
The municipal parks master plan recognizes Parkhurst as a "significant heritage site," but gives it a middling-low priority with a long-term time-frame for action.
Yet your un-humble feature writer, having visited Parkhurst on many occasions, can't help but think Whistler should consider Parkhurst as this resort's most tangible heritage asset, this resort's most obvious link to its "non-ski" history, and make Parkhurst's acquisition a high priority.
As it is, Whistler's master plan has targeted 17 proposed park sites, with an emphasis on adding "a richer interpretive" natural experience to the visitor.
As for what we have now, Whistler can be proud.
"The use we see is tremendous," Bennett says.
"The most important thing is to see a genuine respect for our parks," cautions parks boss Bennett. "We don't see as much vandalism in them as at parks in other communities, but we are concerned at what vandalism there is."
Respect the space… and pass the sunscreen.