Access to the forested Crown land around Emerald Estates, including iconic mountain biking trails and the much-loved One Duck Lake, has been effectively cut off from the northern subdivision.
For decades, unbeknownst to almost everyone, bikers, hikers, dog walkers and others have been crossing private land to get to favourite trails and haunts in the public forest.
“We always thought that what was up behind us was always wild and open. And, apparently it’s not,” said Coun. Andrée Janyk, who sits on the Recreation and Leisure Advisory Committee and said the issue was raised at the committee level about three weeks ago.
The access issue only just came to light this spring as mountain bikers took their regular route up to the Shit Happens trailhead only to find posted signs declaring the longstanding gravel road to the trailhead was on private land. There is development now taking place on that land with several large machines at work.
Signs initially directed people to another steep, shale access path opposite Deerhorn Place. That too, however, is on another large parcel of private land. All lands fronting Emerald Drive are privately owned.
The only legal access to the public land around Emerald is from the Alpine Meadows and Rainbow subdivisions to the south.
WORCA (Whistler Off Road Cycling Association) president Craig Mackenzie pointed to the GIS mapping tool on whistler.ca to illustrate the point. The map shows that Emerald Estates is completely boxed in with no public right of ways to the Crown land.
“That’s the Emerald problem in one fell swoop; it backs onto private land,” said Mackenzie.
“It’s regrettable, but there’s not a lot we can do. Truly, nobody was paying any attention when the trail builders started building this stuff.”
There are other examples of this around town, he added, as trails have sprung up organically in the forest over time. Most notably, the municipality is working on new access to the Train Wreck trails south of Function Junction this summer after CN began ticketing trespassers going over the tracks to access the trails in 2013. The suspension bridge, over the Cheakamus River, is set to be completed by the end of July to give legal access to the Train Wreck trails. It is budgeted at $176,000.
Like Train Wreck, the “No Flow Zone” in the Emerald area is a favourite with mountain bikers with trails like Shit Happens, Big Kahuna and No Girlie Man — trails that have developed over the last two decades. One Duck Lake is a favourite swimming hole in the summer. There is also a whiffle golf course and a pump track tucked among the forest.
“When Emerald got developed it was like the wild, wild west there…. Nobody was thinking about access to something like an amenity,” said Janyk.
The municipality is aware of the situation, acknowledging there have been a number of questions from the public about the change in access.
When asked if the municipality was working to secure another access from Emerald, the RMOW communications department emailed:
“The municipality is aware of the community’s desire for access to this land and will take that into consideration moving forward.”
It is not clear if the municipality has engaged in discussions with the landowner. The Question was unable to reach the landowner before deadline.
The municipality, however, has retained access to the water reservoir, along the old route to the trailhead, for servicing and maintenance purposes only.
“It’s come late in the day for us to spin on a dime and reroute these trails to change the flow of them,” said Mackenzie. “It’s something that we’ll look at over the summer and see as this whole thing develops.”
In the meantime, the trails can be accessed from Baxter Creek via Ashleigh McIvor Drive, and from Alpine Meadows via Valley Drive.