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Mountain biking association pushes for 'skills park' in Pemberton

PORCA wants to see project included in Pemberton's plans for its recreational lands
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Up and down With its bridges and dirt jumps, the Whistler Village Bike Park is an example of the type of project that PORCA would like to see built. file photo

Pemberton's mountain biking association wants to see a new mountain bike skills park built at the Village of Pemberton's (VOP) recreation lands, located on Pemberton Farm Road East.

Bree Thorlakson, executive director of the Pemberton Off Road Cycling Association (PORCA), presented the association's vision to VOP council at its Dec. 10 regular meeting.

In a subsequent interview with Pique, Thorlakson said that the skills park would be a great asset for the community.

"I think it would benefit all of Pemberton," said Thorlakson. "It's hard for people to progress here. They have to go to Whistler to learn."

PORCA has been engaging with VOP staff about its skills park idea since February 2018.

An early idea to see the park built underneath the hydro lines that run near the community's BMX track and skate park was shut down due to safety concerns from BC Hydro, said Thorlakson.

PORCA has already secured some funding for the project: $25,000 from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation in April 2019 and an additional $10,000 donation from Squamish-based OneUp Components.

In total, Thorlakson estimates that yearly maintenance of the project would be about $5,000.

She added that for insurance purposes, it is most feasible to build a skills park on municipal-owned land.

Thorlakson described the skills park as a place where bike enthusiasts of all ages and abilities can challenge themselves and develop their riding skills in a safe environment.

Like any sport, "consistency and practice" are key to progression, she said. "You have to do something over and over again ... It's hard to find a progressive learning zone in a natural environment."

The skills park would include a novice area that would highlight technical features that are low to the ground and relatively easy to tackle (compared, that is, to some of the corridor's gnarly terrain).

An intermediate/advanced area would include rock rolls, jumps and drops and would include a variety of technical trail features.

PORCA's plan also envisions three lines of dirt jumps and a pump track.

A skills park would be a great training ground for Pemberton's challenging mountain biking terrain, which can be alienating and intimidating for novice riders, said Thorlakson.

The skills park would also help PORCA build capacity for its youth program and provide much needed after-school and summer programs, she said.

Commenting on the growth of mountain biking in the corridor, Thorlakson said that PORCA now averages about 80 to 100 people to its "toonie" community race events and 200 for its enduro events.

If successful, the recreation grounds location would provide a great base from which to hold those events, she said.

In January 2019, the VOP council directed staff to apply for a grant that would see the construction of an additional soccer field and an amenity building, which includes washroom and change room facilities, on the recreation lands.

The funding is being sought through the Community, Culture and Recreation Infrastructure Program, a financial-support stream supported with both provincial and federal tax money.

The total cost of the project would be $4,224,405. Under the application guidelines, the VOP must contribute 26.67 per cent of the project cost of its application if successful.

If successful, the VOP would seek to cover that price without additional costs to the taxpayers, using development-related fees and funds, a $40,000 donation from the Rotary Club and a contribution from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

"I just think that the council and staff at the Village of Pemberton have to understand that we're a town of mountain bikers," said Thorlakson. "A skills park makes even more sense than a soccer field for the amount of people that would use it in this town."

She added that mountain biking is a significant financial contributor to the Sea to Sky corridor. According to a 2016 Western Mountain Bike Tourism Association study, some 398,000 non-resident riders visited the Sea to Sky corridor in 2016, spending approximately $70.6 million.

The report's first recommendation was to "build capacity in Pemberton," saying that the community only attracts a "small number of non-resident riders."

"Pemberton has a vibrant biking community with good infrastructure, a diverse selection of trails, and is located less-than-30-minutes' drive north from Whistler, one of the world's top mountain biking destinations," it reads. "This proximity and the existence of high quality mountain bike experiences in Pemberton suggest that Pemberton has an excellent opportunity to attract more riders for both day visits and overnight stays."

"We are one of the top mountain biking destinations in the world," added Thorlakson. "I see the skills park as a sustainable way to be able to grow tourism [in Pemberton]."

VOP Mayor Mike Richman said that he likes the idea of a skills park in Pemberton given the popularity of mountain biking in the community.

The "biggest struggle" so far has been finding the proper parcel of land for one, he said.

"In terms of the recreation site, we have to do a little bit of a vision on it and see how much space it would take and if and how it would fit in," he said. "We totally support having a good hard look at this."

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