A ceremony held Wednesday (Sept. 25) marked the completion of the Cheakamus Community Forest's (CCF) Ancient Cedars Recreation Area improvement project, a two-year initiative carried out by a handful of community groups.
The recreation area was established in the '90s to help preserve and provide greater access to a stand of large red cedar trees -some thought to be as much as 1,000 years old - located atop the 16 Mile Creek drainage just north of Whistler. A popular hiking destination, the site and surrounding signage eventually fell into disrepair, leading to a number of community groups spearheading efforts to improve the area.
The Rotary Club; Alpine Club of Canada; Whistler Blackcomb; Recreation Sites and Trails BC and The Adventure Group all contributed to the project either through funding or in-kind services. The project led to the improvement of surrounding trails, a parking lot area, the construction of an outhouse, the rebuilding of several bridges and the installation of additional benches and interpretive signage.
"It's a wonderful community spirit we have," said CCF chairman Peter Ackhurst. "When the community groups work together like this it makes it a better project and makes people feel good. All the way from the Rotary Club to The Adventure Group, they all contributed something to the greater good."
Ackhurst estimated the total project costs to come in at $60,000, with $28,000 contributed from Recreation Sites and Trails BC, and $14,000 from Whistler Blackcomb's Habitat Improvement Team. The ski resort operator introduced a staff initiative whereby employees could choose to contribute a portion of their paycheque towards environmental initiatives in the Sea to Sky.
"I am profoundly grateful of the community-wide effort in restoring the Ancient Cedars Trail," said Whistler Blackcomb's mountain planning and environmental resource manager Arthur De Jong in a release. "This is one of Whistler's most special protected places in nature and is inspirational to all who wander beneath the towering presence of these ancient trees."
Hoping to avoid allowing the site to fall into disrepair as it has in the past, Ackhurst said Cheakamus Community Forest staff will work hard to maintain the Ancient Cedars site as a viable recreational area in the years to come.
"The community forest will monitor the (area) and make sure that doesn't happen again. The longer the community forest goes along the more we need to look after these different recreation features," he said.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden was in attendance Wednesday to cut the ribbon during the opening ceremony.
"I haven't personally been up there probably for 10 years, so I was really looking forward to seeing the improvements," she said. "It's been established as a hiking area since the 1990's and even earlier, and some of the trees are apparently 900 years old so it really is worthwhile going and having a look at."
Whistler has numerous areas containing old growth forest, including the Ancient Cedars, parts of Whistler Mountain and in the Callaghan Valley. Old growth forests are particularly vulnerable in and around Whistler due to provincially mandated regulations that require 20,000m3 of trees to be logged annually, and the resort's lack of younger merchantable second-growth forest.
Wilhelm-Morden, who sits on the CCF board and campaigned on the promise to eliminate old growth logging in the resort, has suggested the province grant Whistler a 20-year reprieve from logging requirements to allow for younger commercially viable growth to return. For this area, B.C.'s Ministry of Forests considers any tree over the age of 180 to be old growth.
Cheakamus Community Forest staff is launching its Old Forest Focus Project this year, which will look at strategies to protect old growth in the community. An open house outlining the project will be held at Myrtle Philip Community School on Oct. 16, with a public engagement session on Oct. 24, said Ackhurst.