A special hiking trails task force created by the Resort Municipality of Whistler's Forest and Wildland Advisory Committee (FWAC) has presented the second draft of its report on Whistler area hiking trails — and what would be required to restore the existing trails and enhance the resort's image as a great place to hike.
Kurt Mueller approached FWAC with his concerns about the status of trails last year, which resulted in the creation of the task force.
"All of the trails outside of Whistler Blackcomb were totally run down and dilapidated, and nobody was looking after them — and it really bothered me," said Mueller, who has been hiking in the region since 1964 and retired here 12 years ago.
According to the executive summary of the report, over $2 million in maintenance work is required to revive the trails to their past standards within Garibaldi Park alone, and there are dozens of other established hiking trails outside of the park boundaries.
As well, access has become an issue with new gates blocking roads into tenured areas, and backcountry roads falling into disrepair.
The FWAC report suggests that investing in trails will have direct economic benefits for Whistler and the surrounding area. For example, BC Parks has estimated that every $1 spent on parks results in a $10 return to the economy. As well, a Tourism Whistler survey from 2010 found that hiking is the number one activity for summer guests.
Before they could write the report, Mueller and 10 other members of the task force hiked every trail in the region.
"We initially looked at 25 trails, including the trails that Tourism Whistler lists on its website," explained Mueller.
"Whistler has been so focused on off-road biking that hiking has totally fallen away," said Mueller. "The trails are in such poor shape we can't really send visitors out there and local people. Even the Rainbow Lake Trail, which is one of our major trails in the municipality, is in really bad shape right now. That's the one that can be most easily accessed from a paved road, and that's the first one we want to improve."
In addition to upgrading existing trails with funding from the province and RMOW RMI (Resort Municipality Initiative) funds, the report also calls for the construction of at least one new trail to a peak or viewpoint — an attraction similar to the Grouse Grind or a hike up the Stawamus Chief.
"Whistler has no equivalent to the Grouse Grind in North Vancouver or the Stawamus Chief in Squamish," reads the report. "The Chief Trail saw an average of 1,400 hikers per day on summer weekends, with a peak of 2,500 on one long weekend day."
Some of the trail options considered in the report include Cougar Mountain from the Whistler Heli-Port, Sproatt Mountain, Whistler Mountain and Brandywine Mountain. The goal is to develop at least three trails in the Alpine within the RMOW, including the Rainbow Lake Trail, Flank Trail North and Crater Rim Trail.
Meuller said it is going to be a difficult process. The first step, he said, is to create a hiking club through the local chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada. Members could volunteer to do trail work, and member numbers would help to create more attention to trail funding from the province and municipality.
"It's not going to be easy," said Meuller. "There are fiscal restraints to start with, and nobody has money to build trails. BC Parks doesn't even have the money to maintain its trails. But people are starting to notice it and make noise."
Mueller and the task force are not alone. Last year Al Jenkins, a former area supervisor for Garibaldi Park, put videos online to document the state of trails around Black Tusk, hoping to lobby the government to increase spending and members of the public to make contributions to the park. Jayson Faulkner has lobbied locally for trail standards, and is part of a group called the Spearhead Huts Project that is raising money to upgrade the Singing Pass and Spearhead Traverse trails and add new huts in that area.
If you are interested in joining a hiking club or would like a copy of the report, email Kurt Mueller at email@example.com.