Emerald forest going into rehab 

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Volunteers welcome for Arbor Day and B.C. Rivers Day activities

If you have a green thumb – or don’t mind getting your regular thumb dirty – you’re invited to take part in Arbor Day festivities this weekend.

On Saturday morning, Sept. 29, municipal workers and volunteers will take part in the first stage of the plan to rehabilitate the Emerald Forest, which the town took possession of on Sept. 16, 2000.

The goal of this Arbor Day is to decommission and replant rogue trails through the forest, and to place tree stems along the sides of sanctioned trails to encourage hikers and bikers to stay on the path.

Because Arbor Day is being held in conjunction with B.C. Rivers Day activities this year, volunteers and work crews will also dedicate some of that time to restore a riparian zone along the River of Golden Dreams.

Local conservation groups will divide their efforts. Members of the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group, the Whistler Angling Club and the Rotary Club will focus their efforts on the river, while the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), the Whistler Naturalists, and various other conservation groups attend to the forest itself.

AWARE has contributed $10,000 from its habitat conservation fund for the first stage of the rehabilitation project, and will contribute additional funds to future Arbor Day projects.

This year’s rehabilitative activities fall short of what was originally intended, but according to Bob Brett, the ecological consultant who wrote the Emerald Forest Management Plan, that’s bureaucracy for you.

"Arbor Day will be a little bit smaller than foreseen in the management plan because of various slow downs – things happen more slowly than in an ideal world," he says.

"The municipality is definitely committed to this, there’s still a budget for it, and people are working to make sure it gets off the ground. A lot of the planting material has been purchased already."

There are provisions in the management plan to rehabilitate both gravel pits within the forest, starting with the north pit, and the gravel road that connects them. The municipality planned to use sludge collected at the sewage treatment plant, as well as other organic and yard waste, to build a soil base in the gravel pits before planting the areas.

Because this kind of sewage application falls under provincial jurisdiction, the reclamation of the gravel pits and road has been held up as the application to use the waste in this manner is being reviewed by different levels of government.

"I guess the whole purpose of having Arbor Day in the Emerald Forest, and this was identified in the management plan as a major focus, was to involve the community in a big celebration of the new conservation area, and to get people involved in the work necessary to make this conservation area function as is intended. Pride of ownership," says Brett.

"We have to repair some of the past damages from many of the different activities that occurred in the forestt, such as the gravel pits, logging, mountain biking, dirt biking, and so on.

"This year’s Arbor Day will be smaller than we intended, but we’re heading in the right direction."

To volunteer for either the restoration of the Emerald Forest or the River of Golden Dreams, meet on Sept. 29 at the bottom of Lorimer Road by the bridge. Planting will take about three hours, or until noon. There will also be an arbor-culture exhibit in the village until 1 p.m.

On the following day, the event moves to Whistler Outdoor Experience Co. facilities at Edgewater for a river clean up, followed by a canoe scavenger hunt and barbecue. All volunteers are invited to attend this event.

The River of Golden Dreams area is heavily used by canoeists, kayakers, pedestrians, dogs and anglers each summer, prompting the need for an annual clean up.

The municipality will also be presenting the River of Golden Dreams Watershed Management Plan at the barbecue, and inviting public input.

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