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Whistler’s Rainbow Park to close for construction later this year

Popular park will undergo major facelift over the next year that will see extensive landscape work take place, infrastructure replaced, and amenities expanded
An artist’s rendering of planned upgrades to Rainbow Park.

Enjoy Rainbow Park while you can because the popular lakeside spot will close to the public as it undergoes significant upgrades this year, likely starting in the spring or fall.

The upgrades, slated for the area between the railway and the Alta Lake shoreline, represent the park’s most significant improvements since the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) acquired the land in the 1980s. The upgrades will help accommodate a surging number of users by improving the site’s infrastructure, accessibility and design, the municipality said.

“At this point, anticipate that the park, the lake and the Valley Trail will be closed. We know that’s a really big impact for people, and it’s disappointing, but in order to achieve construction efficiency and safety, that’s the approach that we believe needs to be undertaken at this time,” said RMOW manager of resort parks planning Martin Pardoe.

At present, it’s unclear exactly how long the closure of one of Whistler’s busiest parks will last, although a municipal spokesperson said it will likely span from this spring to the fall, or the fall until spring 2024 while the site is an active construction zone. Pardoe said the project is slated to go to tender in the next two months, and once a bid is approved, the municipality will confirm the full extent of the closure. The construction window spans from this spring until May 2024, an effort to attract competitive project bids.

“To attract competitively priced bids in today’s construction market, we’ve allowed for a very large construction window,” Pardoe said in a presentation to Whistler council this week.

“That’s not to say that construction will take all of this window, but rather, we wish to provide prospective contractors with a large window so they can more seriously consider this project with other projects in their work program.”

The municipality said it is trying to find alternatives for “many of the park’s activities,” like the beach volleyball courts, for the summer months. The off-leash dog area, known as “Barking Bay,” will remain untouched, the RMOW said.

RMOW general manager of resort experience Jessie Gresley-Jones said closing the park, rather than keeping limited sections open while work is ongoing, would allow construction to wrap quicker.

“I think one big desire is that we close it and tackle it all at once, then we can hopefully minimize the window of construction,” Gresley-Jones said. “If we try to work around the edges and keep portions open, it can potentially extend the disruption. So, we want to tackle it, shorten that window and get it done right.”

The planned closure follows an explosion in use at Whistler’s parks. Fuelled by the pandemic, 2021 was the busiest year on record for resort parks, with Rainbow, Lost Lake, Lakeside and Alpha Lake parks visited an estimated 176,000 times, 35 per cent more than in 2020 and an astounding 77 per cent more than 2019.

What will change in the park?

Plans for Rainbow Park’s redevelopment are extensive and include: expanding the existing beach area; a new dock equipped with a hammock, stand-up paddleboard launch and accessible lift; improvements to the north dock, including a paved path and accessible lift; widening sections of the Valley Trail; expanded and improved gathering places, picnic areas and seating; habitat improvements aimed at supporting the area’s ecosystem; and a dedicated food truck plaza.

“We have to make best use of the parks we have, and so this space needs to be able to do as much as possible and be robust and resilient for dramatically changing weather, increased crowds, and overall changing environment,” Gresley-Jones said.

The Valley Trail will be realigned and widened by a metre throughout the park to reduce congestion. The path will move east around the volleyball courts and extend alongside the beach, functioning as a waterfront promenade, connecting in a loop to the new food truck plaza near the park’s main entrance.

“We wanted to make this a little more of a clear, definitive area and easier for food trucks to move in and people to come across. So there’s a little bit of a plaza space that we are creating there to meet that higher demand and create a little bit more safety and separation from the Valley Trail,” Pardoe said.

The beach will expand to reduce erosion and debris accumulation and add an assortment of seating options, such as log seating. Another dock toward the south end of the beach will be built, along with accessibility improvements to the existing north beach dock.

“What we really seek to do is to create more three-dimensional and better experiences, more places for people to experience the park and distribute people amongst all the areas of the park that are currently not that well used,” Pardoe said.

The irrigation and septic systems will be replaced, with the park’s irrigation converting to non-potable water and the septic system decommissioned and connected to the municipality’s sewer system, removing the need for manual waste removal.

The RMOW estimates the current cost for these upgrades at $4.6 million, with 100 per cent of the price tag covered by provincial Resort Municipality Initiative funds. The municipality spent a portion of this fund on the first phase of improvements that focused on upgrading the park’s parking lot.

Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton welcomed the redevelopment project, highlighting it as a significant step in helping the municipality achieve its strategic planning goals related to tourism.

“One of the ways that we engage in smart tourism is ensuring that the infrastructure we have that hosts tourism is robust and it can deal well with visitation,” he said.

“Obviously, this is work that was ongoing, but it does exactly that. It allows us to respond to increased visitation to parks, and that’s a really big deal for this community; a community of 14,000 people that sees 3 million-plus visitors a year needs to be really intentional and thoughtful about that tourism infrastructure.” 

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