The Friendship Trail received a shot in the arm last week with an announcement by the province that the trail would receive $71,343 in BikeBC funding this year to help push the project forward.
The funding came as part of a Feb.6 announcement that will see $3.69 million granted to 22 projects across the province.
The trail will connect the Village of Pemberton to the Ull'us Community Centre in Mount Currie. West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy said the trail would be about eight kilometres in length.
Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) trails co-ordinator Allison Macdonald said the funding will completely cover the cost of the trail, as the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation has granted $180,000 and the SLRD is matching the provincial funding for the $323,000 project.
"We're hoping we can go ahead with some of the trail at either end because we don't need to know the exact location of the bridge (crossing the Lillooet River)," Macdonald said.
Village of Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman said the project is being co-ordinated between the Village of Pemberton, Lil'wat First Nation and the SLRD's Area C.
The major challenge comes in the form of the Lillooet River and how to cross it. Richman said the partners have narrowed the number of possible bridge designs to two, with a bridge that is completely steel or a steel bridge with wood components sitting as the final two designs. Factors include the height of the railing, which may or may not allow for equestrian use, as well as construction and maintenance costs.
"What we've been trying to do is finalize a design. We're trying to finalize the alignment of the trail because there are some issues surrounding right-of-ways, the geography of it," Richman said. "We still haven't settled on our final alignment, but we're hopefully going to get there very soon and that alignment will also help inform the final decision in terms of the (bridge) design."
Another factor in the alignment is how to cross the CN tracks at one point, at minimum.
Richman said planners have an idea of what the bridge will ultimately cost, but since a request for proposals has not yet been released, declined to release the estimate at this time. Sturdy, Richman's predecessor as mayor, hopes to have the full funding for the bridge in place — over $1 million — within the next two months.
Richman added fundraising is progressing, as partners received a $500,000 donation for the bridge from Innergex in November. Richman said another avenue the partners are pursuing is the Canada-B.C. Job Grant in order to minimize the effect on local taxpayers while giving local people skills in project management and trail building to help them land jobs.
"It's for training people — in this case it would be preparing the footing and the landing spots for the bridge," Richman said.
Richman said the project timeline hasn't been fully determined, as it depends on whether the bridge builders will have to enter the river. If so, the construction would take place in the winter, but if not, the ideal kickoff would be in the fall.
"Optimistically, we could be breaking ground in the fall, but that's pretty loose at this point," he said.
Sturdy said a pitch proposing the trail was first made and encouraged a decade ago, but figuring out the logistics has prevented it from coming to fruition until now, noting planners have narrowed down the potential routes significantly within the past two years.
"It has always been recognized as a need for a trail to connect Pemberton and Mount Currie off-highway," he said. "There are two ways to get between Pemberton and Mount Currie right now. One is walking along the railroad tracks, which is obviously problematic, and the other is along the highway, which is also problematic."