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Museum Musings: Creating Whistler’s parks—Alpha Lake Park, for the love of tennis

'When the opportunity arose in 1982 to purchase land on Alpha Lake from John Taylor, the municipality jumped at the chance...'
Parks planner Tom Barratt (right) and team member Suzanne McLean put the final touches on Alpha Lake Park in July 1983.

When Whistler’s first Outdoor Recreation Plan was completed in 1980, development of a park on Alpha Lake was not identified as a high priority. Lost Lake and Alta Lake are warmer and more desirable for swimming, so facilities for those lakes were at the top of the list. However, when the opportunity arose in 1982 to purchase land on Alpha Lake from John Taylor, the municipality jumped at the chance to increase lakeside recreation.

Taylor owned more than 160 acres (65 hectares) in the Creekside area around Nita Lake and Alpha Lake. He built the first tennis courts in the valley at Jordan’s Lodge, where the Whistler Tennis Club was formed in 1978. Passionate about tennis, John agreed to sell the land to the municipality for $93,000 on the understanding that tennis courts would be built as part of the park development.

The undeveloped land where Alpha Lake Park was built was a large swamp, and extensive work was required to prepare the area. Fill was brought in for the grassed area and sand for the beach. The tennis courts alone required three feet of basalt bedding for stability. Picnic tables and a wharf were also constructed, and the park was connected to the early Valley Trail network.

When the park opened in 1983, the Whistler Question wrote, “A visit to Alpha Lake Park is a step into a delightful other world.” At the time it opened, there were few facilities found at the other parks, and Alpha Lake Park had volleyball courts, tennis courts, a beach and trails.

Municipal parks planner, Tom Barratt, was particularly fond of Alpha Lake Park due to the number and size of kokanee trout found in the nearby streams. Cedars were planted along the stream banks to offer shade and further improve the conditions for spawning trout.

One of the most notable parts of Alpha Lake Park, the children’s treehouse, did not come along until later. It was built in 1989 by Eric Scragg from funds raised through the community fundraiser, Whistler Night. Whistler Night was a fun “night out” event that raised money for projects that benefit the community.

Money raised from the night out in 1987 was originally slated to go toward a children’s park at the base of Whistler Mountain; however, Whistler Mountain revised its plans and built the Whistler Express Gondola in the area instead. The funds sat in the Whistler Night account for two years as they searched for an appropriate project to put the money toward. More facilities for children were desperately needed in the community, and Alpha Lake Park was eventually chosen because it was felt to be “underutilized.”

Bill Barratt, who went on to become chief administrative officer for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, also worked in Parks at the time. He said while visitors and residents to Whistler wanted generally the same things from a park, it was still a balancing act. He used the play equipment at Alpha Lake Park as an example of a draw card for out-of-town visitors. Unique facilities meant visitors would go on to tell their friends about the park, and drive continued summer visitation.

Despite not being the No. 1 priority in the Outdoor Recreation Plan, Alpha Lake Park was important, as it connected the network of trails and parks from Meadow Park in the north, through Lost Lake and Alta Lake, to Alpha Lake in the south. The initial five-year plan to complete these parks and a connecting trail network was instead completed in three years, greatly increasing access to lakes and recreation throughout the valley.

Today, the playground, volleyball courts and tennis courts continue to be enjoyed by the community and visitors alike.