Sea to Sky Parkwatch, a local affiliate of the national Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, has announced its plans to review the governments recent decision to swap 87 hectares of Garibaldi Provincial Park with Whistler-Blackcomb in exchange for 113 hectares of land in the valley below.
Whistler-Blackcomb was granted a parcel of land that runs from Flute Summit, down along the edge of the park, to an area below the peak that would be suitable for setting up the base of a chairlift. B.C. Parks will get a rectangular section of land that straddles Fitzsimmons Creek and includes a section of Singing Pass Trail.
Sea to Sky ParkWatch met on June 5 to discuss the land exchange, which had already taken place. Whistler-Blackcomb and B.C. Parks announced the swap on May 24, and it was passed as part of an omnibus bill on May 30.
The meeting was attended by ParkWatch members as well as representatives from AWARE, the Federation of B.C. Mountain Clubs, and the Alpine Club of Canada.
The group is concerned with the lack of public process before the exchange, potential environmental impacts, and impacts on wilderness.
"We are concerned that B.C. Parks felt there was no need to consult the public," said Bob Brett of ParkWatch. "Singing Pass is perhaps the best know wilderness destination in the Lower Mainland parks system and is increasingly threatened by pressure from Whistlers phenomenal growth. To think that major changes could be made without meaningful public consultation is very troubling."
In terms of environmental impacts, the main concern was that the park would essentially lose the buffer it had enjoyed in the area. Although the majority of the area fell within the Whistler Mountain boundaries after a 1987 tenure review, the lack of lift access meant the area was only used by backcountry skiers.
"No one knows the environmental impacts from the new lift and the huge increase in ski traffic into Singing Pass because no studies have been done. We are also very concerned with road construction in this sensitive alpine area and the impacts of snowmobiles and grooming associated with the lift," said Al Whitney.
As for Wilderness Values, ParkWatchs position is that the presence of the lift would impact on the natural beauty of the area. According to Bryce Leigh from the Whistler section of the Alpine Club of Canada, "Singing Pass now provides a readily accessible wilderness for those willing to hike or climb. If this development continues the natural wilderness experience would be lost. There wouldnt be any unspoiled and accessible alpine meadows left in the Singing Pass area."
After the meeting ParkWatch, AWARE and the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. announced plans to team up in an effort to reverse the land swap.
Whistler-Blackcombs position is that current boundaries are the result of an oversight when redrawing the boundaries in 1987, and that the mountain had always planned lift access for the Flute basin. They also said they went through the proper channels for the expansion by going through B.C. Parks and the legislative process.
According to Arthur DeJong, the Mountain Planning and Environmental Resource Manager for Whistler-Blackcomb, by using the natural terrain for the lift system, the project will have less environmental impact than attempting to install a lift within the current boundaries.
"It has already been decided by Whistler-Blackcomb that this area was going to be lift serviced," he said. "Thats done. My challenge today is to see that its done in the very best way. How do we minimize its ecological footprint so it doesnt impact the environment or wildlife?
"Our door is very open for the community to the community concerns over how we do this."
ParkWatch will be hosting a public open house on the Flute land swap between 5 and 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 19, in the lounge at Myrtle Philip school. It will run alongside another open house hosted by the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan, which is being held in the Myrtle Philip gymnasium.