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Squamish, Lil’wat voice concern over Callaghan trails

Legacy trails area needs to be studied before construction begins

By Alison Taylor

Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations have raised concerns about possible significant historical sites near the proposed Callaghan recreation legacy trails.

The draft project description for the recreation trails, released on the Environmental Assessment Office website this week, describes in detail VANOC’s plans for 20 to 25 kilometres of trails in the Madeley Valley. The trails are intended to complement the 22 km of cross-country trails associated with the Whistler Nordic Centre, a competition venue for the 2010 Games.

Chief Bill Williams of Squamish Nation explained that First Nations wants to ensure there is nothing historically significant in the area that could be damaged or lost forever, before construction of the trails begins.

“We’ve already dealt with our major concerns or what I call the footprint and the footprint of the trails is in (an) area that has already been logged out,” said Williams. “So the only other interest is to see whether or not… there’s any aboriginal significant sites that might be on the footprint itself.”

Williams points to possible rock shelters as an example of something they would want to preserve. The shelters were places the Squamish and Lil’wat people used while they were out on the land.

“Some of the rock shelters that have been identified in the Squamish proper territory are anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 years old,” said Williams. “So it’s a significant find and we just want to make sure that that kind of discovery is not lost.”

Their concerns could cause delays.

George McKay, VANOC’s director of environmental approvals, confirmed they are aware of the worries from Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. VANOC will be hiring an archaeologist to help with an archaeological impact assessment.

“We’re aware of the concerns raised by our FHFN (Four Host First Nations) partners and we’ll continue to work to resolve them,” he wrote via e-mail. “The area we are planning to develop is an important environment where we need to minimize the impacts of construction and operations, and everyone wants to ensure we develop the trails in a sustainable fashion. Understandably, we’re working through the process now so commenting on specifics would be premature however we remain confident that we’ll resolve any issues and that the legacy trails will be completed for everyone to enjoy.”

VANOC is still hoping to begin construction of the trails this summer with a completion date in 2008.

In his project description McKay outlines the necessity of the trails if the Nordic Centre is to be a sustainable venue after the Games.

“… if the WNCV facility is limited to competitive cross country skiing, biathlon and athlete training after the games the facility will be under utilized after the 2010, and potentially discontinue operating in the longer term,” wrote McKay.

“The addition of the recreation trail component is therefore a fundamental aspect of the post games transition of this Olympic venue into a sustainable tourism destination facility.”

First Nations aren’t alone in calls for more study of the area before construction begins.

Whistler’s environmental watchdog group, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, is also calling for more studies before work moves ahead.

“We’re not saying don’t build the trails, we’re saying more study,” said AWARE president Brad Kasselman.

Last year grizzly bears were conclusively found to be using areas in the Callaghan.

The proposed trails are slated for non-motorized activities such as cross country skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking.

The trails will be marketed as a ski area to residents and guests who currently use the municipal cross-country system, Greater Vancouver skiers who current use Cypress Bowl and Manning Park and destination cross-country skiers.

Skiers will pay a user fee to access the trails.

The Whistler Legacies Society will operate the trails after the


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VANOC has handpicked three Aboriginal athletes as role models for a new poster series designed to increase Aboriginal participation in the Games.

The athletes represent all three Aboriginal groups from across Canada.

Snowboarder Chelsie Mitchell is a First Nations youth from B.C. Aqpik Peter is an Inuit speed skater from Nunavut and Mareck Beaudoin is a Métis youth from Quebec training in biathlon.

More than 20,000 posters from the “Find Your Passion in Sport” series will be distributed to Aboriginal communities and organizations across Canada with a goal to inspire youth to become involved in winter sport at all levels.