Stakeholders eye 'reinvigorated' trails group 

New mission, more meetings and a long-term plan proposed

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RESORT MUNICIPALITY OF WHISTLER - TALKING TRAILS  Stakeholders in Whistler's Trails Planning Working Group, which helped deliver the resort's Alpine Trail Network, say the group needs a refreshed vision.
  • TALKING TRAILS Stakeholders in Whistler's Trails Planning Working Group, which helped deliver the resort's Alpine Trail Network, say the group needs a refreshed vision.

With the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) vision for its Alpine Trails Network largely realized, some stakeholders in the municipality's Trails Planning Working Group (TPWG) say it's time to revisit the group's intent.

Dale Mikkelsen, president of the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA), raised the issue in a recent letter to mayor and council.

"We're asking for a sort of a revitalization of the sprit of the TPWG, and really what that was was a forward-thinking, goal-setting, multi-year visioning process for trails in Whistler," Mikkelsen said in an interview, adding that, with the vision of alpine trails (like Lord of the Squirrels and Into the Mystic, which opened in 2017) largely realized, the group has turned into more of a "reporting forum" as of late.

"We have felt strongly that we collectively need to put together a three-to-five-year trails master plan for the Whistler area, and the Whistler trails, and that's only going to happen successfully if it's led by all the stakeholders," he said.

The WORCA letter calls for: a new mission and mandate for the group; development of a three-to-five year trail plan; that the TPWG be recognized as a proper committee of council; increased frequency of meetings (from just two a year to once a month), and; that the chairperson and members be critically reviewed based on their effectiveness to uphold the mission and vision.

The TPWG was formed in 2012 to coordinate the planning of hiking and mountain biking trails around Whistler, and includes reps from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Alpine Club of Canada Whistler, WORCA, 99 Trials Association, Recreation Sites and Trail BC, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, the Cheakamus Community Forest and Whistler Blackcomb.

In the case of AWARE—which had to push to become a voting member of the TPWG after originally being told it was a closed group—the changes would be welcomed, for the most part, said executive director Claire Ruddy.

"We absolutely agree it should be a long-term planning group. We've raised that at meetings previously, and it's great to see WORCA support that," Ruddy said.

"The recommendation from WORCA is for a three-to-five-year timeline for future trail planning. We would like to see that be even longer, because when we're looking at how we use the landscape, we need to be safeguarding things like connectivity of core habitat for wildlife, and so we have to kind of plan long-term."

While trails affect the local ecology in different ways—whether through users disturbing wildlife or the trails themselves impacting habitat—the various interests of stakeholders at the TPWG are not mutually exclusive, Ruddy said.

"We want people to be out enjoying nature, and feeling connected to it, because then we actually will stand up," she said.

"So we want people out on the trails, but we want to make sure that we are putting trails in the least sensitive areas, so that we are maintaining all of the different values on the landscape."

At the April 30 council meeting (held in the Flute Room at municipal hall due to a scheduling conflict at Maury Young Arts Centre), council expressed interest in having representation on the TPWG, though it's unclear at this time how that might look.

"I'm hearing an appetite on council to be more involved in trail-specific direction, so maybe we will (refer this letter to staff) and then as part of that referral begin the conversation about how that can actually happen," Crompton said.

While mountain biking brings big bucks to Whistler—an economic analysis released in 2017 found it generates almost $59 million annually—the continued growth of the sport has led to capacity issues around parking and trailheads.

The RMOW says it is "exploring options" to manage trailhead issues, including through the development of a "comprehensive strategy document" ($85,000 is budgeted for that project this year, all from Resort Municipality Initiative funds).

Also in 2019, the municipality plans to complete the trail to Beverly Lake, rebuild the south Flank Trail from Northair Mines Forest Service Road to Function Junction, develop rest areas and outhouses and install additional safety and environmental awareness signs ($350,000 budgeted this year, followed by another $300,000 in 2020 and 2021, all from RMI).

The RMOW will also increase investment in the Alpine Trail Ranger Program on Mount Sproatt and Rainbow Mountain with an extra 500 hours between July and October. The rangers will be responsible for monitoring and maintenance, public education, wildfire and wildlife data collection, first aid and more.

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