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Pieces coming together for Sea to Sky Trail

With initial funding and support in place, construction on new sections could start next spring

Twelve years ago the Sea to Sky Trail, linking communities from D’Arcy to Squamish, was just an idea. Today, with the full support and participation of local governments and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, the trail is now official policy, well funded and guided by a steering committee of government representatives.

"We’re making progress on a number of fronts," said Gordon McKeever, the chair of the Sea to Sky Trail Standing Committee and a Whistler councilor.

"Doing our dog and pony show up and down the corridor we managed to get buy-in from all the communities, we have elected officials and staff members assigned to the steering team, and we became a standing committee of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District."

The standing committee includes members from local government, as well as the Sea to Sky Trail Society. Ross Kirkwood, who originally conceived the Sea to Sky Trail with Mike Manheim, is a member of the committee.

One of the major pieces that had been missing from the equation was the question of funding. The SLRD provided $20,000 in seed money to kick off the master plan process, which got underway in June and should wrap up by the end of September. Whistler-based Cascade Environmental Resource Group was given the contract after 17 bids were evaluated.

As for money to build the trail, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation stepped forward after the concept came up at the April 30 board of directors meeting. Since that meeting the board approved a total grant of $300,000, or $60,000 a year over five years.

"We’re thrilled that a major sponsor like the foundation has stepped forward to be our funding sponsor and kickstart that whole part of the program," said McKeever, who added that all of the money will go towards actual trail construction.

McKeever estimates that the entire 150 km trail will cost between $3 million and $3.5 million to complete. "That can be in trade, in service, in donations, money can come from foundations, governments, businesses and individuals," he said. "This is a very well received community project, the enthusiasm of the community has been strong and we hope that will be reflected in the final product."

Trail standards will be similar to the municipal Tin Pants and Molly Hogan trails in Whistler, with estimated costs of $20,000 per kilometre.

No construction will be done on any sections of trail until it has been granted full legal status by local governments, property owners (including Crown corporations) and the provincial government.

"It’s a complicated project; there are so many different users of the land that have to be considered to get that easement through in a continuous stream," McKeever explained. "Missing segments can be somewhat problematic, not getting a river crossing can cost you scores of kilometres of trail, so all the pieces have to really come together.

"I’d say that maybe 60 to 70 per cent of the trail is already on the ground, but it doesn’t exist anywhere. The Sea to Sky Trail doesn’t have any official designation – it exists for the Ministry of Forests, on their maps, but as far as any official designation we don’t have it. That’s why it was so significant to get the support of local governments."

According to McKeever the recent increase in support is the result of 12 years of persistence, as well as the legitimacy the project has gained through the buy-in of local governments. While there are still challenges, including some issues with private land along the preferred route, he believes the steps taken in the last few months will ensure that the trail will go through.

"It’s still premature to talk about the routing," said McKeever. "With a trail like this sometimes it takes a change of ownership, or sometimes a change in generation of ownership to achieve your goals.

"We’ve designed a trail along a preferred route, but we’re also looking at secondary options. It’s not something we have to decide overnight, and we won’t even start to think about that kind of thing until we have the master plan."

The master plan will serve as the technical planning document for the project, suggesting route choices and alternates, as well as the stakeholders along different routes. It will also look at the terrain to estimate development costs, such as the need for bridges, and break the trail down into segments for construction.

Once the plan is completed the standing committee will begin a community engagement process, with public meetings in Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and D’Arcy, as well as presentations to local governments, the SLRD and First Nations.