Thanks to the efforts of the Hiking Trail Task Force (HTTF), 2012 has seen significant upgrades to the community’s existing trails, although major work is still required, according to the volunteer group.
“Our alpine hiking trails have been a little ignored over the course of the last few years and we’re looking to rectify that to a certain extent,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. “The issue of trails and backcountry roads has certainly come to the forefront.”
Kurt Mueller is a longtime Whistlerite and the chair of the task force that was formed in October 2010 in response to the deteriorating condition of many of the community’s hiking trails.
“I was a bit disgusted with the state of our hiking trails when we retired here 12 years ago,” said Mueller.
A frustrated Mueller approached municipal officials to see what could be done, leading to the creation of the HTTF, which eventually spearheaded a report on Whistler’s 109 existing trails that was presented to council in January of this year.
As a result of the report, the muni created the Whistler Trails Planning Working Group (TPWG), which gathers input from several organizations with interests in Whistler’s trails, and provided direction to the municipality’s upcoming five-year financial plan for alpine trails.
“We produced our report and we’ve been rather blown away by the response. The muni has offered fairly substantial amounts of money (to improve trails),” said HTTF member Rupert Merer. “The province has produced quite a lot of money and quite a lot of work. They’ve already funded the upgrade of the road up to the Brandywine Meadows upper trailhead and they’ve rerouted quite a bit of the Rainbow Lake trail.”
The provincial government is responsible for maintaining area trails that fall outside of municipal boundaries. They provided $75,000 in funding for alpine trails this year, with $50,000 more set aside for 2013.
Notable improvement efforts were undertaken by the RMOW on the Rainbow Lake trail this year to repair two major bridges providing access to the area, while the province has completed the first phase of construction on a new trail section that would connect the Gin and Tonic bridge to the lake.
The province’s Recreation Site and Trails department, in collaboration with other community groups, worked to upgrade the Brandywine Meadows trail by re-routing it to higher ground and improving a nearby access road.
“Access roads are a huge issue, much bigger than the trails, because they used to be strictly forest logging roads and since we’re not doing much logging anymore in the valley, there’s no money to fix these roads up. Logging companies aren’t doing anything about it and the province looks at it the same way; if there’s no revenue from logging, they’re not putting anything into it,” said Mueller.
A major area of concern for the task force is the Singing Pass trail, historically one of the community’s most popular hiking paths.
“The Singing Pass trail, what was I think the best trail in Whistler, suffered a landslip and has been largely abandoned,” said Merer.
He’d like to see a parking lot established in the area so hikers don’t have to tackle such a high-elevation gain to reach the trailhead. A recently proposed amendment to the province’s Garibaldi Park Management Plan supported improving access to this area. The same plan, released Nov. 15, was in favour of installing a backcountry Spearhead Hut system in the park that would increase legitimate access to the area. The province would not back the expansion of mountain biking trails in Garibaldi, however, going against the majority of respondents to a BC Parks survey that wanted to see increased mountain bike access.
“I think the municipal trails committee will do a huge amount for mountain bikers and I think it’ll do as much for hikers as well,” said Merer. “If we can get the bikers up onto Sproat (Mountain), there’s probably 10 or 15 kilometres of subalpine from one end to the other.”
Even with the significant work that’s been done in the past year, the HTTF still has some major concerns about Whistler’s trail network going forward, hoping for the further expansion of access to specific trails through the construction of new backcountry roads and trailheads.
The task force has also started a hiking group through Whistler’s branch of the Alpine Club of Canada, which has focused on winter activities in the past, which they hope will raise the profile of hiking as a core recreational activity in the community.
Visit www.accwhistler.ca for get involved with Whistler’s largest hiking group.