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Dead end? Once the focus of attention from D’Arcy to Squamish, the Sea to Sky Trail has run into a roadblock "Once complete, the Sea to Sky Trail will surely become one of the great recreational wonders of the world...

Dead end? Once the focus of attention from D’Arcy to Squamish, the Sea to Sky Trail has run into a roadblock "Once complete, the Sea to Sky Trail will surely become one of the great recreational wonders of the world..." – from a 1994 brochure promoting the Sea to Sky Trail By Bob Barnett It started out with such promise. A 150 km long recreational link running throughout the corridor that would "celebrate the shared enjoyment of the region’s natural beauty," as former Sea to Sky Trail Society Chairman David Roberts said in the brochure. The trail, stretching from Squamish to D’Arcy, was going to be a vehicle for economic development throughout the corridor, bringing mountain bikers from around the world to the region. It has become, according to at least one person formerly involved, "an embarrassment." There is no work being done on the trail this year, even though there are several groups prepared to put money towards the project. Last year there were a few kilometres of trail built in the Shadow Lake area by members of the YAPP program, funded by BC Hydro and assisted by Whistler municipal staff. The Sea to Sky Trail Society, which was established in 1991 "with the aim to build a world-class recreational destination between the unique communities in the region," was not involved. "It’s come to a standstill at this point," Roberts said this week. "The Squamish directors and the Whistler directors have each gone in their own directions. Some have left town; some have other local projects. "There’s really only a couple of people still active." In fact, the Sea to Sky Trail Society seems to exist only on paper. The organization was de-registered by the province last year, losing its charitable and society status, for failing to file annual statements. This is not unheard of among charitable organizations and the oversight is usually remedied by filing statements for the previous years and then re-applying for society status. However, when the board went to re-register they found the name had been taken. Ross Kirkwood, who was previously involved with the society, had re-registered the name himself. Kirkwood still has the rights to the name "Sea to Sky Trail Society" but he doesn’t have the means to get anything going, at least not right now. The result is a former board of directors on one side and a group of trailbuilders on the other, and there doesn’t seem to be any bridging the gap. "We don’t have the rights to the name, and they don’t seem to want to talk to us," Roberts says of the split amongst former board members. "I have plans for the trail," says Kirkwood, "as soon as I can figure out how to pay my rent and eat, as well." The split on the board started with frustration with the pace of progress. "We went through a period of nothing happening; people got frustrated and bailed," says Tom Cole, a professional forester who worked planning the trail route, obtaining rights of way from the various municipalities and getting rights of way registered on the forest service’s legal maps. The introduction of the Forest Practices Code and the logistics of dealing with BC Hydro, BC Rail, three municipal governments and the regional district didn’t help speed things along, either. Winning approvals from that many bodies and trying to solicit funds from some of them proved to be too slow a process for some. There were Trail Society meetings where only three or four directors would show up. The loss of Robert Fine, economic development officer for the Sea to Sky corridor, who had provided much of the energy and direction for the project, didn’t help, either. Fine left the region at the end of 1996 to take up a similar position in Kamloops. He has not been replaced. But for Kirkwood the split became irreparable after he had spent two summers building sections of the trail. The third summer the board advertised it was looking for trail builders, and Kirkwood wasn’t hired. "They hired someone who had never built trail before," Kirkwood says. He was not impressed with the result. "The problem is people who aren’t trail builders, who don’t have the passion, who meet once a month, aren’t going to get it built," Kirkwood says. Mike Manheim, who sided with Kirkwood, agrees. "Ross and I left because you can’t do a construction project of this scale without at least one person working on it full time. And what we had was a volunteer board that met once a month. "It was my conviction that if there’s no paid staff, it’s not going to get done. I think I’m still right, but I wish I was wrong." "The Sea to Sky Trail has been described as an ambitious project and a mountain biker’s dream — no other words can more accurately define it." – brochure The Sea to Sky Trail itself is largely built in many areas. The annual Cheakamus Challenge race follows much of the trail between Squamish and Whistler and the Sea to Sky Trail Ride, a non-competitive event held over two days, follows completed sections of the trail from D’Arcy to Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish. As Manheim says, "What would make an immense difference would be signage. That creates existence of the trail, awareness. There’s lots of discontinuance; if you don’t know how to connect the various pieces you get lost." That’s part of Cole’s frustration, too. "I had a whole signage routine worked out (before the society imploded)," says Cole. An even greater frustration for those who want to see the trail built is that there is money available, but no one is sure who to give it to. Whistler municipal staff advised against a grant in aid last year because the trail society had lost its status, which created a potential liability problem. The money for last summer’s trail work at Shadow Lake came from BC Hydro and went straight to the municipality and its YAPP program, so the society never touched it. Hydro again has money for trail work, provided it’s under Hydro lines. Forest Renewal B.C. also has money for trail work, as does Robbin McKinney, organizer of the Sea to Sky Trail Ride. "Two years ago I wrote a cheque to the Sea to Sky Trail Society (after the inaugural Sea To Sky Trail Ride)," McKinney says. "Last year we raised between $4,000 and $5,000 in pledges (from trail riders). That money is still sitting in trust, pending re-registration of the society." This year’s trail ride raised just over $1,000 for construction of the Sea to Sky Trail, despite a nearly 50 per cent increase in the number of riders. But there was no pledge drive associated with this year’s ride. "I felt uncomfortable asking riders for pledge money when there was no longer a registered society," McKinney says. "If someone can come to me (and show they can get trail work done)... I have no intention of holding on to it, I just want to see it spent on the trail." "Once complete, the Sea to Sky Trail will surely become one of the great recreational wonders of the world, offering an experience that taps into the natural beauty and existing base of tourism services in the corridor, while providing a challenge at all levels of riding ability." – brochure So what will it take to get the society or the former board or someone else working on the trail again? "They need to hire someone full-time to run an office, to co-ordinate," says Manheim. But is that the board’s responsibility or Kirkwood’s? "The board, I think, has the rights to the trail. Ross has the rights to the name but as far as I’m concerned they’re the ones overseeing the project." "It’s only a name," says Roberts. "The concept can still live on. "Personally, I think the best solution would be to role the society into the WORCA group, to renew the energy and use those resources." Kirkwood has no plans to try and broaden the base of membership in the Sea to Sky Trail Society name he holds, but says: "I feel crappy that I don’t have the resources to get out and build. I find myself in this really rotten predicament. "I built the Doris Burma section on my own for Grant Lamont and the Cheakamus Challenge," says Kirkwood, who is looking for trail workers who want to help out with this year’s Cheakamus Challenge. "And I’m working on getting a Lumpy Leidal trail together... "I really want this thing not to die, but at the same time it’s not really going anywhere." There is the possibility that Centra Gas, which wants to build a pipeline from Squamish to Whistler, could play a role in renewing work on the trail. Centra’s first choice for the pipeline route is alongside Highway 99, but the Ministry of Highways doesn’t like that idea. "Highways is pushing like crazy to have it off-road," Roberts says of the pipeline. "If that happens it may be a catalyst for the trail, providing a right of way between Squamish and Whistler." Centra hopes to begin construction of its pipeline next spring. If that’s the case, this fall would be an ideal time for a trail building group to get together with the gas company and co-ordinate rights of way. And despite the differences of opinion and the current stalemate, all sides still believe in the Sea to Sky Trail concept. "I don’t know if it’s possible for the thing to die," says Manheim. "It’s so ingrained in people’s imagination."