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Callaghan continues to confound

In geo-political terms the Callaghan valley is Donald Rumsfeld territory: there are the things we know, the known knowns, there are things we think we know, there are known unknowns and there are the unknown unknowns.

In geo-political terms the Callaghan valley is Donald Rumsfeld territory: there are the things we know, the known knowns, there are things we think we know, there are known unknowns and there are the unknown unknowns.

One of the things we know is that there are a lot of people with interests in the Callaghan, and accommodating them all is going to be difficult, if not impossible.

We also know a bit of history. The Callaghan is claimed as traditional territory by both the Lil’wat and the Squamish First Nations. It’s also an area various provincial governments have had their eyes on. As far back as the 1960s the province identified the Callaghan as a potential recreation area for the Lower Mainland region. Forestry and mining were prominent in the Callaghan in the ’60s and are still present, although less active, today. And in 1989, while Whistler was considering options to expand the capacity of its sewage treatment plant, the provincial government of the day offered more funding for one option (eventually rejected) that would have served future development in the Callaghan. About the same time the government of Bill Vander Zalm issued a call for development proposals in the Callaghan.

In recent years the valley has become heavily used by commercial backcountry operators as well as individual recreationalists. Snowmobiling, heli-skiing, ski touring, snowshoeing, ATVing, mountain biking and hiking are some of the most popular activities.

Part of the Callaghan – 262 hectares – is also going to become the $110 million Nordic centre for the 2010 Games. Squeezing this facility in with all the existing land-use interests would be difficult enough, but it also needs to be done in a way that makes the Nordic centre financially viable after the Olympics and doesn’t do substantial damage to the environment.

There is also a political dimension that needs to be considered. Here is where it starts to get a little complicated.

About a year and a half ago the people of Whistler decided they didn’t want a satellite community developed in the Callaghan, and so the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee (VANOC) agreed to put the athletes village within municipal boundaries. The 300 acres of Crown land the municipality will receive from the province in exchange for co-hosting the Games, and which will be used for resident-restricted housing, will also be within municipal boundaries.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be development adjacent to the Nordic centre in the Callaghan. VANOC’s plans – which have been public for some time – include provisions for a 100-room lodge, a 100-space RV park and campsite and a tubing park and lift. The rationale behind these additional facilities, presumably, is to make sure the Nordic centre is economically viable after the Games are over. But there are also plans – still being worked out – for additional "legacy" trails and facilities, which require land in addition to the 262 ha, to further ensure the Nordic centre’s viability.

This brings up the question of who will own and operate the Nordic centre after 2010. It has been proposed that an Olympic Legacy Society run the Nordic centre, the bobsleigh/luge track and the remaining athlete accommodation after the Games. Exactly who would be represented on this society is not yet clear but it seems through the Nordic centre operation the society will be in competition with some existing commercial backcountry operators.

Meanwhile, the Squamish and Lil’wat apparently agreed to the Nordic centre in their traditional territory in exchange for 300 acres of Crown land. However, there are concerns that the legacy trails, those that would be added after the Games are over, will overlap with areas considered sacred by the First Nations.

Where the Squamish and Lil’wat’s 300 acres of land will be and what it will be used for is also unknown. It could be several parcels; some of it could be in the Callaghan, some of it likely will be in Whistler. We should know in a couple of months.

No one deserves to benefit from the Games more than the First Nations. And First Nations were rightfully and wisely included in the development of the Olympic bid right from the start. But as partners in the 2010 Olympics with the people of Whistler we need to understand each other’s plans and goals.

The Squamish, Lil’wat and perhaps other First Nations are going to play a much greater role in the Whistler area in the future. The First Nations cultural centre in Whistler and the educational tours it will offer to the Soo valley are only the tip of the iceberg. But how the First Nations’ plans fit with Whistler’s plans, particularly Whistler’s plans for controlled development, is unclear.

A year and a half ago, during its CSP process, Whistler decided it didn’t want a satellite community in the Callaghan. Now there are a variety of developments and proposed developments just outside the municipal boundaries, including an RV park near Brandywine and proposed housing developments at Wedgemont and in the Soo valley. The sooner all the details of the Callaghan Nordic centre and related agreements are known the better for all.