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Municipality to remove trees along River of Golden Dreams

Several large trees on the banks of the River of Golden Dreams must be cut down.

The floods of 2003 and this past January, which ate away at the riverbank, have hastened the trees descent into the waters near the bridge at the bottom of Lorimer Road.

"It is sad," said Municipal Park supervisor Randy Symons.

"They are big beautiful trees that in the natural course of things are much better lying in the river helping the river change its natural course."

But that’s not an option in this case. Indeed the demise of the trees is like a window on the struggle of the whole resort to balance recreational growth with its commitment to sustainability.

The falling trees must be removed in case they fall on pedestrians crossing the bridge at Lorimer, or recreational users of the river, or cause flooding that would damage nearby subdivisions.

And by cutting the trees rather than allowing then to fall, said Symons, the root wads can be kept in place to help shore up the bank which is continuing to erode.

The felling is slated for late August when the activity will have the least impact on the fish.

Symons does not believe cutting the trees will lead to the flooding of the small peninsula, which juts out into the river at that point, or the associated destruction of the other large trees.

But Eric Wight of Whistler Backroads is not convinced that’s the case. He is concerned that the river will continue to erode the banks, slowly taking over the peninsula and destroying the forested area. He would like to see the municipality shore up the banks of the river in that area to make sure it is sustainable.

"Let’s not wait 10 years and lose more of them," he said.

Indeed, said Wight, if more had been done years ago then the trees slated for destruction might also have been saved.

"It is unfortunate that the resort hadn’t been a bit more proactive because we could have saved (the trees) quite easily," he said.

"These floods have changed things dramatically and had we been proactive before, the floods wouldn’t have had such an effect."

Wight believes the wilderness area and trees are an important asset to the resort as many visitors walking, biking or canoeing past comment on its natural beauty.

"Everybody stops and looks at what a beautiful area that is and those trees are a big part of it," he said.

In the meantime discussion continues as to whether some of the woody debris from the cut trees should be placed in the river to create invaluable fish habitat.

Tom Cole who sits on the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group for the Whistler Angling Club believes adding that type of habitat to the river would be very beneficial. Indeed proposals have been made in the past for it.

"Our big frustration is that we have wanted to go in and put some in-stream structures in but it becomes highly complex," said Cole. "You have the concern that if fish structures are put in River of Golden Dreams what is going to happen when someone gets their canoe up against it or, heaven forbid, gets drowned and trapped.

"Somehow we have got to come to grips with that in this community otherwise we are going to continue to see the deterioration of the River of Golden Dreams and that is what we have all seen for well over 20 years."

The river is considerably wider and shallower than it was historically for a number of reasons, including the building of the railway, the decision to have 21-Mile Creek diverted into the waterway, and development.

All stakeholders are taking part in discussions and planning around the future of the waterway but as with any environmental system there is no clear right or wrong when it comes to mapping the future.

However, Cole sees the loss of the trees at the Tapley’s bridge as an indicator.

"These couple of trees coming down in isolation might be pretty insignificant but it is in one section of river that is probably functioning as well as it could be," he said.

"We have big trees on both sides with lots of vegetation. Naturally, if they were to fall over we would say, ‘great.’ The fact that we are going to cut them down seems to be the reason that everyone gets huffy.

"This is a microcosm of what is happening all along that waterway. This is everything to do with what this community seems to stand for. We talk a talk of sustainability and these are the issues that just continually wear away the premise that we actually can live within our means.

"The best thing we can do now is document what happens so that 20, 30, 40 years from now someone can say it is better or worse than it was."