In an attempt to alleviate municipal park congestion and bring infrastructure up to code, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is planning to give Meadow Park a major face-lift that will see the park re-designed from top to bottom.
On April 18, the RMOW's parks planning department gave an update on the current state of the planned upgrades at a Committee of the Whole meeting. The presentation laid out the park's preliminary redesign, project timeline, as well as the public feedback gathered so far.
“Meadow Park was constructed almost 40 years ago, which is starting to sound like a long time ago. It does serve a multitude of purposes, not only as a destination for visitors but as an important community and neighbourhood amenity,” RMOW parks planner Annie Oja said in her presentation. “It requires investment to address failing infrastructure, including the spray park, [which] no longer meets Vancouver Coastal Health standards, to respond to ever-increasing resident and visitor demands, to provide long-term climate resilience, and to meet future programming opportunities."
The redesign aims to spread out visitors from other parks, such as Whistler's popular lakeside Rainbow Park, to other quieter areas in an attempt to ease the growing pressure on Whistler’s parks. Whistler's four destination parks saw approximately 176,000 visits in 2021, a 35-per-cent increase from summer 2020, and up 77 per cent from the same period in 2019.
Staff noted that Meadow Park had not received any significant improvements for more than 20 years. The last considerable investment was in 2004, when the RMOW upgraded the playground, and before that, in 1999, when the washroom facilities were upgraded.
What will the upgrades to Meadow Park look like?
The RMOW incorporated feedback from the 2019 Outside Voices engagement period, and a more recent engagement held at the end of January, on the preliminary design. The community input showed a desire from residents for a greater variety of uses in the park, as well as maintaining it as a locally focused park rather than for destination tourists.
In the preliminary plan, the riverfront along the increasingly popular River of Golden Dreams would be expanded, with the Valley Trail moved slightly north to open more picnic space along the river, the spray park replaced, and a large off-leash dog area created, with access down to the river.
A walking trail would encircle the outside of the park with a new accessible outdoor fitness area. Two smaller-sized baseball diamonds currently take up most of the park's space. The upgrade would eliminate the east baseball diamond to accommodate the additional off-leash dog and play area.
“In regards to the baseball diamonds, we do know that they are undersized and they can only be used for little league, which is the Whistler Minor Baseball League (WMBL), and they’re also slightly underutilized, in that ball season runs from May to June, which is a total of six weeks in operation. So based on this, we have gone from two diamonds to one in order to accommodate these programming objectives,” Oja said.
Sarah Smith, league convenor of the Whistler Slo-Pitch Association, said that losing the baseball diamond would not be ideal for the league, and hopes the RMOW builds another baseball diamond in an alternative park.
"For Whistler Slo Pitch, losing that diamond is really unfortunate as it was good for a backup and for teams to practise at. We hope that there are plans to build another diamond or two in the near future," Smith said in an email. "The demand for [base]ball is too high in Whistler to only have three good diamonds for kids and adults. Spruce Grove is a fabulous facility, and we’re adding a batting cage this year, so I’d love to see even more expansion there."
In addition to altering the park's design, the upgrades will also change the water system to reduce the water used. Meadow Park currently uses 15.3 million litres of water annually: 11 million used for irrigation and 4.3 million for the splash park. The upgrade will change the irrigation system to a non-potable water source, reducing stress on Whistler’s drinking water system.
The current estimated cost for the upgrade project is $3.5 million, with the entirety of the project covered by Resort Municipality Initiative funds. So far, the RMOW has spent $120,000 on design fees and the installation of a test well. The municipality has budgeted $352,000 in 2023 for the continued work.
The public will still be able to have their input on the final design at consultations planned in May and June, with staff aiming to bring a final plan before Whistler council in July. Following the plan's approval, the RMOW aims to tender the contract in the fall, with construction beginning in the spring of 2024, and finishing by the end of the fall.
The proposed redesign comes on the heels of the RMOW's controversial plans to upgrade Rainbow Park, which initially drew swift criticism from the public, primarily due to the lack of direct community consultation, a Valley Trail connection that was slated to run parallel to the beachfront, and the months-long closure of the park that is required to complete the work.
Since receiving the community's input—girded by an online petition, "Please Don't Pave Rainbow Park!," that has garnered more than 3,000 signatures—the RMOW altered its draft plans to remove the Valley Trail connection and reduce the paved area for food trucks by half.
Learn more about the proposed Meadow Park upgrades here.