BC Parks are resisting change to the Garibaldi Provincial Park draft management plan despite overwhelming public opinion to have certain clauses amended.
A packed open house was held last Thursday (Dec. 6) at the Whistler Conference Centre with approximately 100 people in attendance. Jennie Aikman, Regional Planner for the South Coast Region gave a presentation on what BC Parks is prioritizing in its long-term plan for the Spearhead region of Garibaldi Park. The issues addressed were the challenges of public access, increased seasonal use, cultural and archaeological sites, the increasing popularity of mountain biking, the proposed Spearhead Huts and the renewal of a heli-ski tenure.
Mountain biking in the Spearhead was what many in attendance came to express their opinions about, including the board members of the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA).
“There’s a finite carrying capacity for these areas and BC Parks realizes that in this area, we want to make sure that we are preserving the existing recreational experience,” said Aikman during her presentation. “There are other areas where mountain biking would be more appropriate and we want to encourage the user groups and stakeholder groups to explore those other opportunities.”
Over 80 per cent of respondents to the online comments survey back in March were in favour of mountain biking in the Spearhead with proper management. But for BC Parks it wasn’t a case of could it be, but should it be.
“We are aware that there is frustration and disappointment from the mountain biking community that this opportunity is not being allowed,” said Aikman during the discussion period. “There was sort of an expectation at the outset that (mountain biking in the Spearhead) was something that BC Parks was looking at. That wasn’t the case. We have to consider all the broader interests and protection of both the natural environment and providing for a quality recreational experience.”
WORCA were quick to reply. Director of Youth Craig Mackenzie noted that bikers have been accessing Garibaldi through Cheakamus Lake and Diamond Head for 23 years, with little conflict and concern or “erosion of the user experience,” and that trail building standards have taken a “quantum leap” since 1990. Emily Mann, WORCA’s director of planning also noted that biking is managed in other provincial and national parks, such as Banff National Park, with little user conflict.
BC Parks staff were steadfast, stating that ecologists that had studied the alpine terrain of the Spearhead were concerned with the “cumulative impact to the area.” Parks also stated that “changes to the management plan are taken very, very seriously.”
WORCA have requested a meeting with BC Parks before Jan. 10 (the deadline for public comment) in order to present their concept for developing a trail system from Singing Pass to Flute and Cheakamus Lake. The concept includes what WORCA would be willing to contribute to the effort including volunteer trail maintenance labour, expert multi-use trail design and construction and possibility of an add-on park user fee for WORCA members to increase revenue for the trails.
“WORCA understands and respects BC Parks’ conservation values,” said Mann during an interview after the open house discussion. “We do believe that mountain biking can be offered in the park in a manner that has a very low impact to the environment. The RMOW has a long history of multi-use trails, every single trail in the valley is accessible by hikers and there’s very few conflicts. The perceived conflict is far greater.”
The other vocal crowd in attendance were people opposed to the renewal of Whistler Heli-Skiing’s tenure to operate in the Spearhead, despite BC Parks’ mostly positive response to the Spearhead huts proposal. Sixty eight per cent of respondents in the last survey were in favour of heliskiing being phased out of the park with concerns over conflicts with ski tourers, noise, emissions and impact to wildlife.
“We feel that the interactions between heli skiers and ski tourers can be managed,” said Aikman. “By working with the operator and user groups we can develop approaches to address potential conflicts.”
Whistler Blackcomb issued a statement of facts addressing the concerns brought up, stating: “Whistler Heli-Skiing respects the public they share the Park with, and avoids skiing in the Park on key weekends when they anticipate the public will be touring.”
Whistler Blackcomb pointed out Whistler Search and Rescue have requested they remain active in the Spearhead to assist with rescue scenarios and its presence in the park allows the compay to contribute snow and weather data to the Canadian Avalanche Association’s InfoX resource.
During the 2011-12 winter season, Whistler Heli spent 26 days skiing in the Spearhead, flying in a total of 850 skiers and snowboarders.
Whistler Blackcomb said the heli-skiing tenure is large, but the range of the helicopters in the fleet is limited and the two per cent of Garibaldi Provincial Park where heli-skiing is acceptable is within the aircraft’s range. It has also been operating in the area for 32 years.
The deadline for input on the proposed Garibaldi Management Plan amendment is Jan. 10. Comments can be submitted online at www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/planning/mgmtplns/garibaldi/garibaldi_mp.html.