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Blazing new trails in the Sea to Sky corridor

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Councillor Gordon McKeever fans the flames of a forgotten project

Staying true to one of his campaign platforms, newly elected Councillor Gordon McKeever has reawakened the dream of the Sea to Sky Trail.

This concept of building a continuous mountain bike trail, stretching the length of the corridor, virtually disappeared from planning board tables five years ago after it struggled through a number of setbacks.

McKeever wants to see it back on the table. And he’s not alone. The Sea to Sky Trail Society still exists today, keeping the dream alive.

"It was held together by a very small group of dedicated enthusiasts and I guess now that I’m in a position to contribute to its success, we can bring the idea out and reinvigorate it again," said McKeever, who gave a brief presentation about the trail at Monday’s council meeting.

In its hey-day during the early 1990s, the project captured the imagination of many a mountain biker in the corridor with its goal of a 150-kilometre trail running from Squamish to D’Arcy.

The Sea to Sky Trail Society’s proposal was one of the most popular community initiatives at that time.

But the project floundered later that decade when the society lost its charitable and society status for failing to file annual statements to the government, among other things.

Although some enthusiasts were not to be deterred by these early setbacks and continued to do maintenance on parts of the trail, and construct small sections, the project effectively disappeared from the popular consciousness.

"It’s a very easy project to get excited about but a harder one to build," said Mike Manheim, who was involved with the project in its early stages and recognizes the difficulties of what is proposed.

Problems in the past have included the different land uses and land jurisdictions that the trail winds through, as well as the financial costs of putting it all together.

A formal trail that is marked officially on the map is a far different beast than the many mountain bike trails hidden the woods around Whistler, said Manheim.

McKeever recognizes that there’s more to the project than cutting, clearing and building a trail.

He knows it’s a big challenge, equivalent to building a park 150 km long and three metres wide, but the payoffs could make that challenge worth it.

"I see the Sea to Sky Trail as allowing this corridor to do to mountain biking the same type of treatment that we’ve done to skiing and a lot of other outdoor recreation – become a dominant feature on the global landscape within that sport," he said.

His reasons are fourfold.

From an economical point of view, mountain biking is a growth sport and a viable sector of the summer tourism economy.

The trail is environmentally friendly because it promotes self-propelled transportation.

It has social benefits too, acting as a physical link through the corridor.

And McKeever has his own personal reasons at stake too.

"At the root of it all, I like trails in the woods," he said.

"I think they’re wonderful. I think they’re a tremendous recreational amenity and I personally have found enormous satisfaction in them."

His first step is to mobilize the community and fan the flames of support that were once there.

Then the local governments in the corridor have to get involved, as well as the regional district and the two First Nations in the area. The final step would be to convince the provincial government.

"The first step is to establish the route and legitimize it," said McKeever.

"The second step is to actually build it and then maintain it in perpetuity. I see local governments being in the best position to provide substantial assistance in establishing the route and legitimizing it and making it a permanent part of the landscape."

There are some sections of the trail that have already been completed. The annual Cheakamus Challenge uses a portion of the trail between Squamish and Whistler and there is a large section finished south of D’Arcy.

"One of the things I want to make sure is it’s understood clearly this is a pan-corridor project," said McKeever.

"It sounds a little corny perhaps but it can be seen as a very real and physical symbol of a new sense of co-operation and going forward together that I think is going to be developing in the corridor."

Manheim can’t help but be surprised by the seemingly sudden renewed interest in the trail.

He’s pleased about it but wary of getting his hopes up just yet.

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