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Museum Musings: Lost Lake debate

For residents and visitors alike, Whistler’s parks are a favourite place to spend a summer day. Each park offers something different, whether it’s the playground at Alpha Lake Park or a history lesson from the cabins at Rainbow Park.
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Lost Lake Park opened Sept. 11, 1982 after a robust community discussion about how much tourist amenity development should be allowed.

For residents and visitors alike, Whistler’s parks are a favourite place to spend a summer day.  Each park offers something different, whether it’s the playground at Alpha Lake Park or a history lesson from the cabins at Rainbow Park. Lost Lake Park offers swimming, biking, nature walks, and even disc golf. Back in 1982, when the park was still being developed, there was a debate about whether Lost Lake Park should offer even more than it does today.

Lost Lake Park almost didn’t become a park at all. In the 1960s the two timber licences in the area were set to expire and developers, who knew the licences were about to expire, had already started preparing to apply for the waterfront property. Don MacLaurin saw what was happening and contacted his friend Bill in the Parks Branch. With help from Bill and other contacts, the area around Lost Lake was assessed and set aside by the provincial government as a potential Use, Recreation and Enjoyment of the Public (UREP) site.

By 1980, residents were regularly using Lost Lake for recreation. In summers, freestyle skiers were training and even holding competitions on a ski jump. In the winters the Alta Lake Sports Club was cross-country skiing in the area, having begun work on their first course in 1976. The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) received official approval for the transfer of the UREP surrounding Lost Lake to the municipality for the purposes of creating a municipal park in August 1980, and plans were made to clear a beach area at the south end of the lake and to further develop the trails already in place.

These plans were still underway in June 1982, when Municipal Parks Planner Tom Barratt was creating a five-year plan for Lost Lake and the surrounding area (500 acres of Crown Land surrounding the lake was also transferred to the RMOW in 1982). Like before, this plan included clearing the beach area and upgrading the trail system while retaining the area’s “wilderness character.” Most people seemed to have accepted these parts of the plan but the idea of including a permanent concession stand offering snacks, drinks, and paddleboard rentals at Lost Lake Park evoked differing opinions from residents.

An editorial in the Whistler Question on June 3, 1982 pointed out that opinions on further development of Lost Lake were “sharply divided.” While not agreeing with those who thought the area should remain untouched by the municipal government, the editor wrote: “We understood that the original concept of Lost Lake was that the area was to be cleared up, landscaped, seeded and generally made more attractive, but we really cannot endorse any plans that could well turn this pristine area into Whistler’s own Coney Island.”

One letter to the editor in June 1982 argued that developing a beach for visitors was enough, but offering “paddleboards, rubber rafts, canoes, rowboats, fishing rods, towels and fast food” was going too far and asked the question, “How big do our elected members think the lake is?” 

Another letter supported the building of a moderate concession that could also be used as a warming hut in winter. The Question asked six residents what they thought about the proposed concession stand for their “Whistler’s Answers” feature, and while some accepted the sale of food and drink, most did not support boat rentals. (You can read their responses on our Whistorical blog).

By July, the debate appeared to have quieted, most likely because the RMOW would only grant Dave Lalik, who had applied to run the concession stand, a one-year lease while he calculated he would need at least two summers to earn back his investment. Work on Lost Lake Park continued throughout the summer, but no concession had opened by the time the park was officially opened on September 11, 1982.

Today the beach at the south end of Lost Lake is incredibly popular, as are the trails that surround the area. There is a concession building that is used as a warming hut for cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winters, but anyone wanting to float on Lost Lake is still required to bring their own boat.