By Alison Taylor
Of all the places on a three-day tour through the region, one place in particular sticks out in Russ Oakley’s mind — the Big Slide.
That’s the name given to the oft-hazardous stretch of road between Lytton and Lillooet on Highway 12, where it’s commonplace for rocks to litter the road and motorists to hold their breath as they pass through.
Oakley is the chair of the nine-member board of Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD). He spearheaded last week’s board tour through the region with the other directors, including representatives from Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton.
“I’m not sure that the directors understood the magnitude of that particular problem,” Oakley said this week. “I think they do now.”
The stretch of road lies within the boundaries of the SRLD but concerns the neighbouring regional district where Lytton is located.
Lytton Mayor Chris O’Connor met the board at the site. He said in the last two winters, the slide above the road has become more active, forcing closures, one of which lasted up to three weeks.
“There’s a constant rain of rocks,” he said, describing them as fist-size and sometimes larger. “You’re often dodging rocks on the road.”
He was pleased to see the SLRD board there.
“There’s a recognition that this is a regional issue,” he added.
O’Connor impressed upon the board the importance of lobbying the provincial government for a solution. He also handed out postcards with the slogan “Stop the Rolling Stones.”
The board directors agreed to send the postcards to the provincial government.
For Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, who represents Whistler at the SLRD board in the absence of Mayor Ken Melamed, the visit to the slide was eye opening… and scary.
“People won’t drive it, it’s so scary,” he said.
Bus companies won’t travel through the area. That, said Zeidler, is a missed opportunity for the region.
The stretch of road from Lillooet to Lytton is the fastest way to get to Vancouver from Whistler in the event of a closure on the Sea to Sky Highway. It takes roughly five hours via this alternate route.
If the road was safer, the region could promote circle tours to visit what Zeidler called the “hidden gems all over the place.”
“Here’s a fantastic opportunity for a circle tour to benefit those communities and people coming through here and Pemberton,” he said.
The board had a look at some of those gems on their tour, including Joffre Lakes, the mining museum at Britannia Beach and the jade project. The tour also included a visit to a pit house, the traditional dwelling of the St’at’imc First Nation people.
“I think everyone not only enjoyed themselves, which was part of the deal, but I think they have a better understanding of some of the issues that each director has,” said Oakley.
This is the first regional tour the board has taken since 1997.
The region is diverse, stretching from Furry Creek in the south to Lillooet in the north, with exploding growth in the southern region, a development moratorium in Whistler and smaller, more isolated communities to the north.
Some of the big projects at the board table are the Green River Estates to the north of Whistler, the First Nations’ development at Porteau Cove, the potential new Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort and a myriad of things in between.
“It just reinforced for me how we all need to be on the same page and working together as we develop our tourism product in particular,” said Zeidler.
In the meantime, provincial Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon is slated to visit the “Big Slide” in July as part of his highways tours this summer.
Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Jeff Knight said the ministry has looked at the area several times in the past and the issues are on its radar screen. It poses many challenges in terms of the cost to upgrade alternative routes or taking measures to upgrade the existing highway.