If BC Parks set out to upset a large number of people with its plans to update the management plan for Garibaldi Provincial Park, then mission accomplished.
Over 100 people crammed into a small meeting room at the Whistler Conference Centre at the public open house on Dec. 6 to provide their sometimes-passionate feedback on the draft plan, which was released a few weeks ago. Among other things, the draft plan was supportive of a proposal to build huts along the Spearhead Traverse, supportive of heliskiing in the park and opposed to opening the park up to mountain bikers.
The most common question asked was why park planners rejected the wishes of the mountain bike community when it comes to opening a section of Garibaldi Park — the Singing Pass Trail and the Musical Bumps — to mountain bikes.
The second most common question was why they even bothered asking for public opinions on mountain biking and heliski operations in that area if they weren't going to consider the survey responses when making their decision.
In response, BC Park planner Jennie Aikman said the survey was never intended as a popularity contest, but when updating the plan they felt it was important to consult all the stakeholders. In the end, however, they had to consider issues like user conflicts and trail erosion, and the impact on hiking — something they said will increase if the Spearhead Hut Project goes ahead.
"We did consider all of (the surveys) when drafting the report and made the determination that there were other places where mountain biking was more appropriate," said Aikman. "(The decision) was over the effect on the visitor experience and the quality of the trails."
Aikman said the high alpine area around Singing Pass is more ecologically sensitive than at Cheakamus Lake and Diamond Head, where mountain bike access is permitted.
Aikman also offered an apology of sorts for the perception that BC Parks would make decisions based on public support, which may have given the mountain bike community false hope.
"There was an expectation at the outset that this (mountain biking) was something we were considering, when that was not the case," she said. "We wanted to hear from all the stakeholders. We listened and heard comments... and did not dismiss them out of hand. We gave every comment careful consideration, I can tell you that."
Aikman was asked whether they would consider an experimental opening or even a late season opening where mountain bikers could prove they would respect the trails and other users, but Aikman said they didn't want to create a situation where they would be perceived as taking something away from the mountain bike community if the experiment didn't work in favour of bikes.