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Letters to the Editor for the week of September 14th

Stewards of responsible tourism Over the years, I have had the good fortune to travel the world, experiencing many destinations large and small.
Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher. File photo

Stewards of responsible tourism

Over the years, I have had the good fortune to travel the world, experiencing many destinations large and small. When travelling with my family, we play a game called: "Could we live here?"

No matter how exotic, how quaint, or how cosmopolitan, we have yet to find a destination as beautiful, as inspiring, and as inviting as Whistler, that we would want to call home.

The magnitude and majesty of our mountains, the charm and festivity of our village, the allure of our lakes and forested trails, the passion of our people, and the powerful spirit of this place – (they) all make Whistler a truly special and unique destination.

Just as locals have been attracted by Whistler's treasured qualities and attributes, so too have tourists.

Tourism is what buoys our economy, supporting our local businesses, employing our residents, and feeding our families.

It was only a few years ago when local businesses and employees were struggling from depressed business levels as a result of sluggish global economies, challenging exchange rates, deflated consumer confidence, and unwelcome weather challenges. These challenges are cyclical, so can — and will — come again.

But over the last few years, the stars have aligned, with Whistler's marketing initiatives, conference groups and signature events paying dividends. As a result, Whistler's awareness levels, popularity and visitation have taken off. And while this should be cause for great celebration, success brings with it both rewards and consequences.

So, yes, business is booming, but so too is the level of local angst surrounding this growth.

Whistler now attracts just shy of three million unique visitors annually, and with that growth has come increased pressures in areas such as transportation, housing and staffing. We therefore are understandably feeling real pressure from back-to-back years of record visits.

Partner organizations are taking a leadership role in tackling these critical issues: the Resort Municipality of Whistler on creative housing and transportation solutions; and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce on valuable recruitment and training programs.

In turn, Tourism Whistler pledges to take a leadership role in being stewards of responsible tourism.

As part of Tourism Whistler's June planning retreat with our Board of Directors, we invited a prominent guest speaker to share insights from global destinations that are more mature than Whistler in their tourism lifecycle. We contrasted destinations such as Barcelona and Venice who are experiencing resident backlash due to uncontrolled growth; with destinations such as Copenhagen, Greenland and Amsterdam who are proactively rolling out growth management solutions to improve the experience for locals and visitors alike.

Tourism Whistler is passionate about preserving, and celebrating, the character of what makes Whistler special; and we are actively working with our resort partners to ensure a positive resort experience for both locals and guests.

Our focus is to attract the right guests (people who love our mountain culture, who passionately engage in our resort experiences, and who respect and protect our environment) at the right times (smoothing year-round visitation by shifting peak-season visitors to off-peak travel times, where possible) to create tourism demand that is in harmony and balance with tourism supply.

As part of this, we would like to initiate a community-wide engagement process through surveys and listening sessions, confirming what Whistler truly is, what makes Whistler special, what we want to protect and preserve, and who we want to attract – to ensure both our guests and our residents positively interact with (rather than negatively impact) this extraordinary mountain village and spectacular Sea to Sky corridor.

At our upcoming all-member meeting in October, we will share some of the highlights from our board retreat, and the steps and timeline of our community engagement plan. We look forward to some meaningful dialogue, as we each have a role to play in proactively and constructively supporting Whistler's future.

Barrett Fisher
President & CEO Tourism Whistler

A warning for users of Green Lake spit

A very disturbing incident occurred over the Labour Day long weekend at Green Lake.

We had cycled there to cool off and over a couple of hours many children had been playing happily in and out of the water. One child was even riding his bike in and out of the shallows.

Towards the end of the day, a little girl lost her footing as she was playing in the water. Her father tried to grab her and both were very swiftly swept out into the lake by the current. It took a long time for anyone to realize that they were in trouble — I was watching them together — they both had their sunglasses on, they appeared to be calmly bobbing about and nothing seemed amiss. The alarm was suddenly raised by the child's mother.

One brave lady, Pascale, immediately tried to enter the water to help, but at waist deep she assessed that the water was too cold and the current too strong for her to offer any assistance. She was able to reach the older sister who was also in the water, and helped her to safety.

A young man who was on the beach with his wife and young baby dove into the water and was immediately carried towards the father and young girl. He was able to swim strongly and brought the girl back to the beach leaving the father in the water.

He later said that he had no trouble reaching the stranded pair as the current pulled him straight out — it was coming back that was the problem.

The girl's mother had also entered the water in her desperation to reach her husband but was urged to get back to safety on the beach.

In the meantime, two more strong men dove into the water and reached the father.

They started to bring him in towards the shore then started shouting for more help in the water as they were having trouble fighting the strong current.

From the beach it seemed clear that the current was pretty localized, so we encouraged them to try to swim away from the rip.

The young man who had already rescued the girl decided to go back in the water to assist the other two and eventually after what seemed an extraordinary fight, all four men managed to reach land. The father was still wearing his backpack — he had never intended to enter the water — and one of the rescuers said that it was "a good thing you had that on because I was able to catch you by it." Maybe it saved his life that day.

The medics called from Pemberton arrived about 20 minutes later to check over the survivors.

The whole rescue episode had probably taken 10 or 15 minutes, although the father and daughter were almost certainly in the water for 30 minutes or more. Even though 911 was called, there was no way any first responders could get to the scene in time to save anyone in the water.

Thank goodness there were so many alert and brave people there — strong men who risked their own lives to save a stranger. There were many of us who could do no more than watch in helplessness from the shore as this scene unfolded, mindful not to become further victims of the freezing water.

The family was visiting the area, but even many of the Whistler locals who were there did not expect the current to be so strong and unforgiving.

As we left the beach at the end of this drama that had a thankfully happy ending, we followed one of the rescuers and his family.

On his back was a large tattoo of angel wings.

Elena Murphy

Unacceptable GranFondo garbage

The GranFondo is a great event for Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor as it promotes human-powered fitness for participants with a wide variety of athletic abilities.

Events such as the GranFondo are the long-term future of Whistler as they have a relatively low carbon footprint and minimal environmental impact. (This is especially true when compared to the growing herd of ATVs, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles ravaging the backcountry.)

These events also provide the participants with the opportunity to view and appreciate our amazing natural environment.

Unfortunately, a portion of the GranFondo participants clearly do not care about our environment or they are just ignorant or probably both. The day after the GranFondo, I rode the highway from Black Tusk Village to the Callaghan Valley turn-off. The highway shoulder was littered with GU packages, inner tubes, energy bar wrappers, gloves, and water bottles.

Many of these items were dropped on the road within sight of the aid station at the "Welcome to Whistler" sign. Even the area surrounding the aid station was littered with garbage from the GranFondo. Clearly, even the event organizers hadn't been diligent in their efforts to clean up the area surrounding the aid station.

I realize that the area surrounding the "Welcome to Whistler" sign is perpetually covered in chip bags, pop bottles, beer cans, diapers, cigarette butts, human waste, and every other type of garbage. However, as someone who frequently rides past the sign I know that GU packages, Powerade bottles, Shot blok packages, and energy gel packages are not the predominant items littering that area.

By contrast, I rode the Callaghan section of the Ironman course minutes after the last racer and there was only one Red Bull can, two water bottles, and a banana peel on the road, still too much but significantly better.

While much of the highway shoulder would regularly qualify as the world's longest garbage dump, the learned school of thought is that we should be trying to eliminate the garbage, not increase it.

The pressing question is what type of person thinks that it is acceptable to throw their garbage on the side of the road whether they are driving or riding a bike. Do they think the Tooth Fairy comes by at night and picks up their mess? Do they have such a sense of entitlement that they think they can do whatever they want? This attitude is not limited to people on the highway. It carries over into the backcountry where garbage and lack of respect for the environment are rampant.

Since relying on people's integrity isn't working, other options need to be considered. Apparently the solution for one California endurance event was to count and label each participant's food and water containers with their race numbers. If they didn't arrive at the finish line with all their items, or if one of their items was found along the course, they were disqualified.

Just think of the potential benefits of having such a system in Whistler. The roads and backcountry would be quickly cleaned up especially if repeat offenders were permanently banished from Whistler and the backcountry.

Events such as the GranFondo are an opportunity for Whistler to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and healthy environment. Participants need to respect the area and not bring their bad habits with them.

Great event, (but) too many of the wrong people participating.

Bryce Leigh

Thanks to Dubh Linn Gate

The Dubh Linn Gate hosted my dad, Harold "Bingo" Bringeland's Celebration of Life on Sept 2.

The staff was amazing!

Dad was a long-time patron of the Dubh Linn Gate. The pub staff and patrons became a big part of his world and the staff spoiled him.

He was one of the "old goats," a small but powerful clan. You will find a brass plaque there that says: "This is Harold's seat. Move."

You could hear a pin drop when they unveiled the memorial for dad in the pub, his infamous yellow jacket framed, with a wonderful sketch rendition of dad by an artist extraordinaire on staff along with the Old Goat Clan coat of arms: Old Goat, Friend, Truth Teller.

And, to top it off, the introduction of Big Bear lager on tap in honour of Harold.

There are no words to describe how grateful and blessed we feel for the Celebration of Life hosted by The Dubh Linn Gate in dad's honour. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We will be back soon to have a Big Bear with all of you!

Dawne Bringeland

First Nation member speaks out against trophy hunting

(Editor's note: This letter is in response to the Pique article: "Guide outfitters question trophy hunt ban" (Aug. 24). In it, Scott Ellis, executive director of the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia, was interviewed about the ban on trophy hunting grizzly bears in B.C. that comes into force on Nov. 30.)

I am writing this letter to you, Scott Ellis, because you wanted to hear from a First Nations' person.

Well, I'm proud to be First Nations and care for my people and the animals, plus nature in general. The animals play a very important part in our lives and they deserve to be respected and treated like one of us.

It's our ceremonies where their hide is used and we wear it. So you must think twice about what you said in the Pique Newsmagazine because no one is going to go out and kill a grizzly bear and eat the meat.

If a lot of our territory wasn't protected, where these animals have their habitat to survive, you hunters would go out there and kill everything for meat and trophy, then there wouldn't be any animals left. Then what would you hunters do?

A lot of deer get killed in our territory and the animals get left out in the woods and rot.

What would you do if you were me, and I was you? Think about it, Scott Ellis. Because I see this thing you do to wildlife as just a fun sport. No care in the world about the rest of the grizzly bear parts — just the trophy is important, so I don't call you a hunter at all. You are in it for the money — that's all you care about.

This game doesn't show you have respect for animals.

Ryan Peters (Q'awam)

MPCS opens outdoor classroom

After two years of fundraising and planning, the Myrtle Philip Parent Advisory Council (MPCS PAC) is pleased to have successfully completed the Outdoor Learning Centre!

Phase 1 of the project, which involved installing the garden beds was completed in 2016 and Phase 2, which included building a covered structure and pathways to connect the school entrances was completed this summer.

The space has already been put to good use, on the first day back at school, the students got to harvest, prepare and share the garden bounty. They harvested 48 kilograms of potatoes and 45 kg of carrots (16 kgs were eaten by the students and 29 kgs were saved for an upcoming Harvest Soup Celebration).

This project would not have been possible without the support of our school district, as well as the generous grants from the Community Foundation of Whistler's Environmental Legacy Grant and the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation.

MPCS PAC matched the grants with completion funds from fundraising initiatives over the past two years.

The edible food gardens were made possible with grants from Arts BC, Real Estate Association of Whistler, West Coast Seeds and Toyota Evergreen School Ground Greening Grant. 

We would like to thank Christy Craig for her vision, Jamie Akehurst and Jonathan Living for project management and Elena Murphy for financial management, as well as the teachers, students and parent volunteers who all helped to make this dream a reality. 

The project was built with support by: TM Builders; Chalten Engineering; Another View Landscaping; Adrenaline Concrete Pumping; Mt. Currie Concrete Grizzlys; Blackstone Painting; Pocklington Building Systems; TBI Irrigation; Terracraft Landscape; Little Whistler Lumber; Whistler Excavations; Rona; and Sea to Sky Soils.

Kerri Stewart and Shauna Hardy-Mishaw 
MPCS PAC co-chairs

Clarifying comments on gradeless report cards

I was interviewed by (reporter) Joel Barde for his article, "Parents split on gradeless report cards," Pique, Sept. 7.

I am flattered that he felt my opinions were worth relaying in his article. In large part, he conveyed those sentiments accurately. However, I feel that some of the ways my statements were framed and edited, in particular the final paragraph, were overly oppositional and polarizing.

My main message was that long-term studies of student achievement are lacking on knowing if a gradeless system is better. Mr. Barde asked me what the risks of proceeding with gradeless reporting are. I told him that the risk of proceeding without those long-term studies is that students might not learn as much. I would be prepared to accept that my beliefs could be wrong if the right research were available.

The final quote: "The kids aren't going to learn as much," comes across with more certainty than I actually have. As well, I do not think that the district's decision to go forward with the project only "reflects a desire to keep teachers happy." While I may not share all of the school district's views, I believe that the school district also has the welfare of its students in mind.

I would like to apologize if some members of the school district found those comments offensive.

Denton Hirsh