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New route proposed for missing piece of the Sea to Sky Trail

Local advocates believe the trail should stay as natural as possible and avoid interaction with Highway 99

The dream of linking the entire Sea to Sky by trail—from Squamish to the shores of Anderson Lake and beyond—has been a goal of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) and hiking enthusiasts alike for decades.

Now, as the final link of the Sea to Sky Trail between Pemberton and Whistler comes closer to fruition, advocates are debating the question of exactly how to connect the remaining piece from Gord’s Garden (north of Shadow Lake) to Nairn Falls Provincial Park.

The SLRD planned to build the link sometime over the next year or two, using a proposed route along Highway 99 that passes Suicide Hill, the Pemberton Speedway, a gun range and active industrial operations.

But a group of hiking enthusiasts argue that route is not an attractive option and has some safety issues, particularly crossing the Soo River and Rutherford Creek bridges. As such, the group, led by Doug Wylie, brought an alternate route proposal to the SLRD’s Sept. 28 board meeting, which, if completed, would place the trail on the east side of the Green River to Nairn Falls. Wylie gathered a group of hikers to do a rough survey of the potential route, and, much to their joy, they found a suitable course for a new trail. Along the route, they found long-since-abandoned logging roads in relatively good condition and topography suitable for trailbuilding.

The eastern route would follow an abandoned logging road before making its way up a hill (with views of Suicide Hill) before descending to Green River, where the trail would run along the riverside with a bridge crossing over the river at Nairn Falls.

“The unique thing I thought we found here was this series of logging roads were gently sloped, smooth, with no evidence of any erosion or ditching; they’ve got relatively large trees growing on and beside them,” Wylie said.

“The first seven kilometres of this is pretty standard, sort of forest service kind of routes, logging roads, but the last kilometre you’re in the park, and you’re going along the river, and you’re right beside these beautiful falls.”

A short trail bridge would have to be constructed across the Green River if the route goes forward, but Wylie believes it could be built relatively cheaply if the right location is chosen. Alternatively, the trail could be pushed through to an existing bridge by the Pemberton golf courses, but this option was not reviewed by the east-side advocates.

The proposal, while in a very early form, has already gained the support of a few local organizations, including the Alpine Club of Canada’s (ACC) Whistler chapter.

President of the Whistler ACC Bryce Leigh supported the proposal in a letter to the SLRD.

“We believe that this route aligns with the original vision of the Sea to Sky Trail, as the route is mostly through forested land. The route was intentionally designed to avoid developed or industrial land giving users a more natural experience,” Leigh wrote.

“There are several features along the route that would provide good viewpoints overlooking the valley and the surrounding mountains. The route would have a variety of terrain, including gentle forest old road beds, low-grade switchbacks up rocky knolls, and sections adjacent to the Green River.”

Wylie hopes the proposal piques the public’s interest. So far, the SLRD has invested staff time into the current planned route, but has not spent any money on construction, opening the opportunity for the potential alternative route to go ahead.

“There is something build-able, and so it just seemed like a shame to me to press on with a plan that had been on the drawing board for a long time without at least having a look across the river,” Wylie said.

Beginning at the Squamish waterfront and running north for 180 kilometres through the Sea to Sky corridor to D’Arcy, the Sea to Sky Trail links the Pacific Ocean in the south to the Coast Mountains to the north.

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