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Callaghan Country gets long-term security

Tour operator gives up tenure area in exchange for 30-year agreement

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By Andrew Mitchell

It took seven years of negotiations, but in November Brad Sills of Callaghan Country and the province came to an agreement over his commercial tour operator tenure in the Callaghan Valley, which was up for renewal.

Since his last tenure agreement the Callaghan has become a busy place, with the development of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Nordic Centre, and various other projects. Balancing those new demands with the needs of his Nordic and backcountry skiing operation was a tough job, said Sills, and required concessions on both sides.

“It was seven years in the making, so I’m certainly glad to have it over with and I’m looking forward to the benefits that will come out of it,” he said. “(Callaghan Country) certainly gave up a significant portion of our tenure… but we did get some things in exchange.”

Sills, who has operated in the Callaghan since 1981 when the only other user groups were mining and forestry, estimates the business gave up a quarter of its tenure area, as well as more than 20 km of its 91 km trail network. That includes the area surrounding Alexander Falls where the 2010 Nordic Centre is being built.

In exchange, Sills received a 30-year tenure which he says gives his business a degree of long-term certainty they have not enjoyed in the past. As well, the construction of a new road will make it easier, and less costly for Sills, to bring guests into the area.

“Now we have security of tenure, which allows us to move forward with plans that have been on hold for three or four years, and to bring our existing operations at Alexander Falls into compliance, and to address all sorts of other issues and just move on,” he said.

“We will be revisiting our business model this winter, and next year our operations will change significantly from a reservation-based facility to more of a ski-in and ski-out type of venue.

“We’re also looking to strengthening the summer-oriented recreation in the summer months. In addition to hiking and mountaineering, those kinds of things, we’ll be adding mountain biking and horseback riding to that.”

Another benefit is that Callaghan Country will be more visible, both from the highway and as a tourism destination.

“For our business there’s definitely a synergy there, as we’ve seen with Whistler and Blackcomb linking up and with our golf courses,” he said. “The west coast of B.C. will be seen as a destination for Nordic skiing. We’ll have the municipal Lost Lake venue, the Olympic venues, and Callaghan Country’s — three substantial Nordic facilities in the same area, augmented by Cypress Mountain and Manning Park.”

However, despite the gains Sills says the Callaghan area will still need to be monitored closely given all the new demands on the region. Sills has participated in several land use planning processes for the valley in the past, including the regional Protected Areas Strategy, a backcountry recreation strategy, the creation of a provincial park surrounding Callaghan Lake, and the process to find a venue for the Olympic Nordic events.

Still, he has never seen as much demand.

“There’s a variety of other interests in this area that weren’t there before — public, government, First Nations — and some significant development is going to take place in the Lower Callaghan Valley. First Nations are negotiating (with the province) the development of 300 acres and have other land claims in the area. There is the new garbage transfer station. In a way these things will have way more effect on the area than the Games or the existing operators have,” said Sills.

“All of the operators gave up a significant amount of tenure, and gained things — right now we’re all hoping that the forfeiture will not be exceeded by the expectations.”

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