By Andrew Mitchell
The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment is continuing to build public support for its ongoing campaign to protect the Upper Soo Valley from logging and mining, and is hosting the second annual Soo AWAREness weekend this Saturday and Sunday to showcase the remote area.
AWARE first came up with the idea to protect the 6,500 hectare area as a wildlife refuge in 2002 as a way to offset Olympic development occurring in the adjacent Callaghan Valley and as a green legacy for the 2010 Games.
While the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) and provincial government have not supported the project, AWARE has continued to advocate for a protected area through the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan process and in talks with First Nations, with some success. Through the LRMP process AWARE succeeded in getting a temporary moratorium on timber harvesting from logging companies with tenure in the area, which expired earlier this year, as well as concessions from the mining industry. Recreation and tourism industries would still be able to use the area, as well as other activities consistent with a wildlife refuge.
This year it was confirmed through DNA testing that the Callaghan Valley and Soo Valley are likely travel corridors for grizzly bears, which are a threatened species in the southwest of the province. While they have never been sighted, hair and stool samples verify that grizzlies may still pass through the region.
More than 40 people participated in the first Soo AWAREness weekend in 2005. If you would like to participate in this year’s outing, meet at the Alexander Falls parking area at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16. AWARE will be providing a helicopter to transport heavy equipment to the campsite, and helping families with extra equipment. Contact AWARE at aware@ direct.ca if you require any helicopter pack assistance.
HillTrip, an organization that puts together events to raise awareness about climate change, will purchase carbon credits to offset the use of the helicopter.
From the staging area the group will head up to Callaghan Lake, where AWARE will be providing canoes to stage participants across the lake to the trail up to the Upper Soo. The hike should take about three hours, with about 450 metres of climbing to a plateau that includes seven alpine lakes and numerous camping possibilities.
There will be a communal dinner on the plateau, and the following day people will be able to walk the area before hiking back down to the canoes. People can expect to be back at Alexander Falls by 3 p.m., and back in Whistler Village for 5 p.m. Sunday.
People should bring overnight camping gear, as well as food and beverages for a day and a half.
For more information about the campaign to preserve the Upper Soo, visit www.awarewhistler.org and navigate to the Upper Soo Valley Legacy page in the Wilderness Backyard section.