As warm weather returns to Whistler and the valley snow begins to melt, municipal staff is preparing for an anticipated onslaught of visitors this summer.
“I think it is a bit daunting what we might expect this summer,” said Jessie Gresley-Jones, general manager of resort experience, pointing to the surge in demand for Whistler’s parks after just a few months of isolation last year.
“We’ve gone through an entire winter season now, where we’ve had multiple months of really sticking to our own households only,” he said. “People are going to be wanting to get out.”
With that in mind, Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) staff is applying lessons learned from last year in approaching summer 2021 operations.
On March 16, council adopted a new 2021 Summer Experience Plan, which lays out a number of key initiatives to help manage capacity in parks and at trailheads.
Key among the proposals is the introduction of seasonal pay parking at four parks (Rainbow, Lakeside, Alpha and Wayside); regular shuttles to Rainbow Park (with stops at Meadow Park and the Rainbow Lake Trailhead) operating out of the Day Lots; privately-operated bike rentals; expanded bike valet services; enhanced animation to help disperse crowds throughout the valley; and an increase to washroom facilities, garbage and compost bins, food service and park hosts.
Without proper forethought, Whistler’s parks and natural areas are at risk of “deterioration,” said manager of resort parks planning Martin Pardoe.
“There’s likely or potentially a diminished visitor experience, there’s potentially additional negative impacts to local neighbourhoods and businesses struggling,” he said.
“So the Whistler Summer Experience 2021 plan is based upon, clearly, what we learned last year, but also on baseline assumptions.”
Those assumptions include: a high demand for Whistler’s outdoors spaces, in line with last year or greater, and mostly coming from the Lower Mainland; while the U.S. border will remain closed, all British Columbians will have their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine by July, and travel restrictions will ease soon after; mask-wearing and physical distancing will continue, and major events will continue to be prohibited.
Along with pay parking at parks (rates for which will be in line with what is charged in the day lots), the RMOW plans to upgrade neighbourhood parking signs where necessary, return the seasonal speed bumps on Alta Lake Road (while adding several others), improve safety, flow and capacity at parking lots and implement on-site traffic control.
“There’s a functional reason for seasonal pay parking,” Pardoe said, noting it’s been proven to encourage turnover in other jurisdictions.
“It also incentivizes sustainable transportation options, and then revenues generated would be used to support seasonal park shuttle and park operations.”
The free daily transit service between the Village and Lost Lake will also return, as will free weekend transit resort-wide.
The RMOW is also hoping to support local artists, service providers and other businesses through its 2021 summer operations plan, either by hiring them directly or by finding ways to direct crowds through their doors.
The RMOW’s 2021 budget includes $681,000 for summer initiatives, Pardoe said, including a bike valet location, new compost bins in parks, touchless features in washrooms and festivals, events and animation (FE&A) programming.
The initiatives in the Summer Experience Plan come with an additional price tag of $922,000, potentially offset by a $250,000 Canada Healthy Communities Initiative grant.
“No new funds are being requested, but rather, we’ll be looking to reallocate funds that have already been approved in the five-year financial plan from FE&A and from several capital projects, and reallocate funding to this current initiative,” Pardoe said.
“So we anticipate that the net impact of the budget will be zero, if the grant is successful.”
Mayor Jack Crompton was pleased to see the focus on locals, he said after a presentation at the March 16 council meeting.
“I love this: You use the words ‘local performers’ and ‘local businesses,’ and this whole project being focused around growing local business opportunities and growing opportunities for local performers, I think, is extremely exciting,” Crompton said.