Over the past several months, the SWBC Recreation and Conservation Committee has worked on a range of matters. The following highlights some of these issues and the work done by Committee members.
Singing Pass Trail and Access – Update on developments
The FMCBC, a number of SWBC outdoor clubs, and the Spearhead Huts Society are working to implement the Singing Pass Trail Access and Parking Proposal to improve public access to Garibaldi Park from Whistler and overnight parking. In the fall, a subgroup was created to implement the Singing Pass Trail Access and Parking proposal. The proposal includes a pedestrian footbridge across Fitzsimmons Creek near the Innergex IPP, more parking for overnight Garibaldi Park visitors (winter and summer), including at or near the Innergex IPP site, and the possibility of a shuttle bus/taxi service as an alternate transportation option to the footbridge. With the first Spearhead hut becoming operational in 2019, there appears to greater interest and willingness by some of the stakeholders to resolve the access and parking issues. Total hut capacity with three huts will be 95 people. This doesn’t include overnight visitors using tents and day hikers to the Park.
The current access options are too limiting and favour commercial interests. While the Whistler/Blackcomb lift system may be a preferred option for some, particularly in winter, it is far too restrictive (lifts are not operational year-round and lift hours are limited when in operation) and costly for many park visitors and others who don’t want lift-assisted access. There is a need for reasonable, safer and less costly options for the public to access Garibaldi Park via Singing Pass.
Parking in Whistler is controlled by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and Whistler/Blackcomb. In the summer, there are only 6 designated spots in Lot 4 for overnight park visitors. Also, Lots 1–5 can be completely closed by events such as Crankworx. While the Singing Pass Trail Access & Parking proposal envisions parking at or near the Innergex site, there is currently no parking at this location. If parking is developed at or near the Innergex site, it will need to be managed to avoid the current problems at popular trailheads, such as Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. While a shuttle bus/taxi service would alleviate some parking pressures at the Innergex site, it would not address the need for overnight parking within the RMOW.
Carrying capacity also needs to be addressed. Both Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) and BC Parks have raised carrying capacity concerns about hikers accessing Garibaldi Park via the Singing Pass trail. They have not however raised concerns about the thousands of people accessing the Park via Whistler/Blackcomb lift systems in winter. If visitor numbers are going to be limited in some way, there has to be a better balance between the different access points.
Rainbow Lake winter non-motorized update
A new protocol for the 21 Mile/Rainbow Lake non-motorized area was implemented this year by RSTBC, after acknowledging that signs, maps, boundary markers and club information failed to get compliance by snowmobilers. RSTBC’s plan was to install a gate and sign at the start of Callaghan FSR at the bottom of Powerline hill on the west side of HWY 99, i.e., at end of the cul-de-sac, where road turns from pavement to gravel. If compliance with the non-motorized zone surrounding Rainbow Lake and Gin & Tonic Lakes was not achieved within the first few months of winter, the access road would be gated and only open on “bad weather” days. Should the gate with bad weather day openings still fail to achieve compliance, then the gate would be permanently closed all winter and the entire area from Callaghan River to the ridge on Sproatt would be non-motorized, plus the existing area surrounding Rainbow Lake. The threat of losing the Sproatt area galvanized the snowmobiling clubs to take action and to actively educate snowmobilers about the non-motorized boundaries and monitor snowmobile incursions into the non-motorized zone.
Compliance with the non-motorized zone was much improved in the first three months of 2019, with very few instances of snowmobiles being in the non-motorized zone. The area with the greatest conflicts was Hanging Lake, which is motorized but also one of the prime ski touring destinations within the Rainbow Lake-Sproatt area. There will be a follow up meeting to discuss what was achieved this past winter. The challenge will be maintaining compliance with the non-motorized zone in subsequent winters and finding a solution to the conflicts in the Hanging Lake.
Cypress Backcountry Access Corridor – Winter 2018-2019
This winter there were no changes to the Backcountry Access (BAC) protocol, which permits access through the Cypress Resort Controlled Recreation Area between 7 am and 10 pm. However, the BAC signage was not as well maintained this winter, with insufficient BAC signs marking the corridor, particularly near the Cypress Lodge. There was also considerable confusion about Cypress Resort’s new RFID gates, with no signage to guide park visitors around the gates. Park visitors should not have to pass through the gates, which are not operational until 9 am and not set up for BAC passes (the gates have to be manually opened by the Cypress Resort attendants).
BC Parks and Cypress Resort did implement the one-time-daily descent privilege, which permits backcountry skiers using the Black Mountain trail to descend via “Maelle Ricker’s” ski run (aka Fork and Lower Fork) from the designated access point. Initially the access point was at the terrain park but after the dangers of the access point were brought to the attention of BC Parks and Cypress Resort, it is now near the top of the Eagle Express chairlift.
Towards the end of the winter season, Cypress Resort also restored the Hollyburn Hikers Access Trail, by removing their cross-country ski ropes and poles, after Alex Wallace brought the encroachments to their attention.
BC Parks is still not prepared to open the road gate prior to 7 am, citing increased plowing costs, which BC Parks says it can’t justify based on the small number of people wanting earlier access to traverse the Howe Sound Crest Trail.
Providing Comments on Multiple Commercial Tenure Applications
Over the past several months, the FMCBC has commented on several commercial tenure applications, which have implications for existing public recreation use in the proposed tenure areas or adjacent recreation areas. The applications included:
- Compass Heli Tourism, which applied for multi-use adventure tourism activities (heli-skiing and snowshoeing and heli-hiking, camping, paddle sports and glacier tours) in the Harrison Lake, Nahatlatch river and Kwoiek Creek areas. The proposed tenure terrain is valuable for remote, multi-day backcountry ski trips, but current use is low because of access difficulties. The Committee recommended that the operator implement an avoidance protocol, which should be posted on the company’s website, along with contact information.
- Further logging in the “Donut Hole” in Skagit Valley—an area sandwiched between Manning and Skagit provincial parks. The FMCBC opposed this application in the interest of maintaining the long-term goal to incorporate the “Donut Hole” lands into our provincial park system.
- Imperial Metals’ application for a multi-year, area based permit to do exploratory work on their Giant Copper claims within the Upper Skagit River Watershed, the area also known as the “Donut Hole.” As above, the FMCBC opposed this application in the interest of maintaining the long-term goal of SEEC and BC Parks to incorporate the “Donut Hole” lands into our provincial park system.
- Three applications submitted in relation to a proposed wilderness lodge to be located near the top of Brohm Ridge. The FMCBC is asking that these three applications be denied. Ad hoc development should not be happening on Brohm Ridge, given its proximity to Garibaldi Provincial Park and the designated ungulate winter range. Rather than developing this attractive alpine ridge, extending the boundary of Garibaldi Provincial Park to include Brohm Ridge would go some way towards compensating for the extensive removal of parkland for the benefit of Whistler/Blackcomb.
Pinecone Burke Provincial Park – park management planning status
There have been no further developments with respect to BC Parks’ Pinecone Burke Provincial Park management plan. Vicki Haberl from BC Parks advised progress has been slow because of competing priorities. The next big step in the planning process is to complete discussions with First Nations. FMCBC will be advised when there is an opportunity for public comment on a draft plan, and this will likely include an open house.