Whistler’s mayor is concerned a piece of provincial legislation, once implemented, will diminish access to several trails in the Sea to Sky corridor.
Nancy Wilhelm-Morden expressed her concerns about the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operation’s proposed Natural Resources Road Act (NRRA) at the Whistler council meeting on July 17, stating that it could mean some of the forest service roads near Whistler could be deactivated pursuant to the act.
Her comments followed a presentation by Martin Pardoe, manager of parks planning, which delivered recommendations from the new Hiking Trails Task Force report.
The task force was created to inventory existing alpine hiking trails, identify new trails and assess maintenance needs and priorities for trail access within Whistler boundaries.
The report recommends an increased focus on the promotion and funding of trails; the development of a strategy to manage trails; a program that would provide opportunities for community involvement, including an adopt-a-trail program; and the development of new and existing trails and improvements to trail access.
Many of the trails included in the inventory are accessible solely by forest service roads, noted Wilhelm-Morden, which may be affected by the implementation of the NRRA.
The mayor said she has directed Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey to write to the provincial government to ensure that the backcountry amenities in and around Whistler are not going to be negatively affected by the act and to inquire whether the ministry has a plan for the continued maintenance of those roads.
“We want to identify which roads will be deactivated,” Wilhelm-Morden said in a phone interview on Monday (July 23).
“If there is a forest service road, for example, that goes to a trailhead and it’s deteriorating now, is it one of the roads the province has said it was going to formally deactivate? Or is there a plan with the province in stepping up the maintenance to the road? Or are there user groups that will be prepared to contribute to the maintenance of those roads? So there’s a whole myriad of questions that we need answers to.”
The proposed act remains a work in progress, said a ministry spokesperson, adding that the legislation has yet to be drafted.
Its main purpose would be to streamline the governance of roughly 450,000 kilometres of natural resource roads in the province and to consolidate the 11 different acts that currently exist to regulate resource roads, said Brennan Clarke.
But the mayor says there are concerns the NRRA could affect tourism in Whistler.
“Right now when an industrial user, whether it’s a mining company or a forestry company, is using a road that’s owned by the Crown, they pay to maintain that road and when they leave... they no longer contribute to the maintenance of that road. So it’s going to potentially affect tourism in the backcountry,” she said.
Extensive timber harvesting in the 1950s and ‘60s resulted in a widespread system of forest service roads in the Whistler region. Although these roads were constructed to support logging operations, they provided four-wheel-drive access to a number of hiking trails.
This changed dramatically in the 1990s when the pace of timber harvesting slowed.
The Hiking Trails Task Force report indicates that most access roads to trailheads are now in a very serious state of deterioration.
According to the report, there has been no planning in the past to maintain strategic forest service roads as permanent recreational access roads for the purpose of hiking.
The report also states that the costs to upgrade or even to maintain the forest service roads are now becoming very high, “however, without significant improvements to access roads that lead to our alpine trailheads, we cannot grow and promote this huge resource.”