Outdoor clubs release Singing Pass parking proposal

FMCBC sees new government as an opportunity to push for action

The Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia (FMCBC) is seeking public feedback on a recently released parking proposal for the Singing Pass.

The proposal aims to reinstate vehicle access and simplify foot access to the Garibaldi Provincial Park boundary after years of what hiking groups have cited as a slow but steady decline in safe public access to the park’s Singing Pass trail.

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“The park was built in 1927; the resort came after,” explained Steve Jones, an avid hiker and trail advocate who’s blogged about the contention surrounding Singing Pass. “If we had come forward with a proposal for the resort that included blocking off this public access… people never would have agreed to it. What’s most concerning here is the erosion of access that occurs over a very long period of time.”  

Three decades ago, visitors were able to drive five kilometres up a logging road to a parking area and trailhead located on the south side of Fitzsimmons Creek. After that road suffered a slump in 1991, Whistler Blackcomb (WB) erected a gate, cutting off all access to public vehicles.

Today, hikers have two options to access Singing Pass. The first sees visitors depart from the Village on foot and walk up that road to reach the historic trailhead. The loss of vehicle access added a less scenic 10 kilometres to the route’s return trip. Furthermore, some argue it’s hazardous: bridges have washed away and left multiple open creek crossings, while the Whistler Mountain Bike Park has since constructed trails that cross the public access road.

The second option allows visitors to access Singing Pass via Whistler Blackcomb’s (WB) High Note and Musical Bumps trails, beginning from the Roundhouse atop Whistler Mountain. Although it brings visitors closer to the Garibaldi Park boundary and allows them to skip the trail hazards, it comes with a price tag of $56.95 per person for the gondola pass necessary for this “privileged access.”

Furthermore, hikers say the gondola’s limited hours of operation can pose difficulties to hikers looking to complete the route as a day trip.  

The parking situation was also further complicated in July of this year, following the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s (RMOW) decision to enforce paid parking and a 24-hour maximum stay in the day lots, frequently used by hikers, during peak seasons.

While the RMOW has kept parking spots available for Singing Pass, with a sign along the Blackcomb Way side of Day Lot 4 indicating this policy, and allows hikers to park their vehicles for up to four days in that lot (so long as they display a note that says “SP” and, in peak season, pay for the first day of parking), Paul Kubik, director of cabins and trails with the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC), said the move has nonetheless created confusion for some Singing Pass visitors. “It’s created a lot of uncertainty, and people are concerned their cars are going to be towed,” he said.

Combined with an increase in visitors to the Sea to Sky’s backcountry regions — a number that’s only expected to rise as the Spearhead Huts project continues its construction of three backcountry huts in Garibaldi Park, accessible by Singing Pass —FMCBC says these factors have created an urgent need for improved access.

Stakeholders are hoping a new proposal solves all of the previously mentioned issues. It suggests upgrading the industrial road on the north side of Fitzsimmons Creek, on Blackcomb, to allow for public vehicle use (it’s currently restricted to use by private operations vehicles, and connects the Whistler Sliding Centre and the Innergex Independent Power Project). The proposal also recommends constructing a new parking lot five kilometres up Fitzsimmons Creek from Whistler Village, conveniently adjacent to the Garibaldi Park boundary, as well as a new footbridge crossing Fitzsimmons Creek to connect with the existing Singing Pass trail along the south side of the valley.

The proposal, developed by Kubik, was approved by the FMCBC’s member clubs at a meeting last month, and endorsed by FMCBC’s Southwest B.C. Recreation and Conservation committee. Improving public access to Singing Pass with a new parking area on the north side of the Creek was also supported by a 2014 amendment to the Garibaldi Park 1990 Master Plan, although the recommendation was never implemented.

While the proposed route has been suggested as an option in the past, Whistler Blackcomb has historically remained opposed to the suggestion, citing safety concerns if the steep, narrow industrial road were to be opened to the public.

“Those roads, there’s nothing wrong with them,” Kubik argued. “The public can start driving on them and park. The only thing that’s stopping us is we need a bridge across Fitzsimmons Creek and we need a better trail. Really, I think we could move on this right away.”

But after years of unsuccessful negotiations with Mountain Resorts Branch (the provincial government agency that approves development plans for BC ski resorts) and other stakeholders, FMCBC members have reached an impasse.

Last year “there was considerable dialogue between RMOW, FMCBC, provincial staff, WB, WSL and others regarding this issue,” said the municipality in an emailed statement. “Parking for the Singing Pass trail and Spearhead Huts has been and will continue to be monitored, and the data will help to inform a long-term solution that is consistent with community transportation management goals.”

Armed with the new proposal, which earmarks summer 2018 as a completion date for the project, and a new provincial government in place, FMCBC members feel this is the right time to push for action. They’re now working on a cost estimate and seeking a meeting with Minister of the Environment George Heyman, in hopes of finding a political solution and a government that’s more receptive to their requests.

“We expect that if we went to Whistler Blackcomb today and said, ‘this is our proposal,’ we would get the same treatment that we’ve been getting for the past five years, which is basically ‘can’t do it,’” Kubik expressed. “We don’t think that’s a worthwhile proposition at this point, so we’re going to go to the top.”

Vail Resorts, which owns Whistler Blackcomb, did not return The Question’s interview requests by press time.

FMCBC members are also asking those in support of the parking proposal to write a letter to Heyman.

Access to the park boundary is a contractual obligation signed off by Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation back in 1982, Kubik added. “We think that continues to this day.

It was never a right that we actively gave up, so we continue to believe that it is our right to be able to drive to the park… What we want is access, public parking, a safe trail — these are things that everybody wants. The only people who don’t seem to want it are Whistler Blackcomb, its shareholders and insiders who are probably making fairly nice profits off of the way things are.”

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