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Corridor communities unite in asking visitors to stay away

Those who don't follow bylaw direction can be fined $500
Lakeside Park, like all Whistler parks, is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders throughout the Sea to Sky corridor are urging visitors to stay away from their communities for the time being. Photo by Braden Dupuis

DESPITE REPEATED warnings from provincial health officials about the importance of physical distancing, the Sea to Sky region continues to be a popular draw for visitors—even during a global pandemic.

The large number of visitors has prompted an unprecedented plea from local leaders throughout the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD): stay away.

"Never would we ever have imagined, as mayors and as the chair of the regional district, that we would be telling visitors to avoid the Sea-to-Sky region," said SLRD board chair Tony Rainbow, in a release put out in conjunction with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), District of Squamish, Village of Pemberton and District of Lillooet.

While some measures have been taken to reduce access, there are areas in the SLRD that continue to draw crowds of people. Rainbow said.

"We are seeing mid-summer levels of visitation with cars lined up in long stretches along roads near trails, increasing numbers of campers at beach areas and overall a lack of social distancing in these heavily trafficked areas," Rainbow said.

"People congregating in these areas are putting themselves, their community and our communities, at greater risk of increased disease transmission. Please stay home, stay safe and we will succeed together in reducing the terrible toll of this pandemic."

In Whistler, those who don't follow the direction of bylaw officers can be fined $500, according to the RMOW.

"Whistler exists to welcome visitors. During these challenging times however, we are asking visitors to not come to Whistler," said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton in the release.

"Our focus right now is on the health and safety of our community, especially our healthcare workers and other essential workers including those in our grocery stores, food services and pharmacies, and we've asked our community to take social distancing recommendations from public health officials very seriously.

"Now is not the time to come to Whistler. Now is not the time to travel outside your own community. Please stay home and take care of yourself and your family. When we are able, we look forward to welcoming visitors back again with wide-open arms."

For smaller communities like Pemberton, which lack the resources necessary to deal with a large outbreak, the message is especially important.

"To disregard the province's direction to remain in place is reckless and irresponsible," said Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman in the release.

"Non-essential travelers put themselves at risk, our community at risk and our rural clinics and ERs at risk. If you truly enjoy our area and all it has to offer, you will respect our simple plea so that we can welcome you back in the near future."

On Tuesday, health minister Adrian Dix echoed these municipal leaders' pleas in B.C.'s daily COVID-19 briefing when he implored British Columbians to avoid any non-essential travel, including to vacation properties in smaller communities.

"This is not the weekend to travel to second homes and to cottages," he said. "Let's enjoy, as much as we can under the circumstances, what we have here and the many blessings we have here, but let's enjoy enjoy them without travelling."