Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

A sign and a light

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One of the duties and pleasures of being owned by Zippy the Dog is the need – requirement – to take him for walks. Zippy’s a Lab and a reasonably smart dog. He’s not smart enough to sniff someone out of an avalanche or keep them from wandering out into traffic but he’s smart enough to make me go to work while he stays home and sleeps on the couch.

I often wonder just how smart he’d be if the 70 per cent of his brain dedicated to food and the 25 per cent dedicated to walks could be magically rewired to perform higher functions. I’m pretty sure I’d have to hide the car keys and chequebook.

From our place in Alpine, we have quite a few choices of where to walk. We can scramble down the berm keeping 19 Mile Creek from washing away that scandalous, transient housing project the Alta Lake Hatepayers fought so hard against. From there, we can pick up the Valley Trail across the highway. We can go north in good months, south in all months or meander through the trails around Edgewater and have a swim in Green Lake.

Or we can stay on the west side of the highway and follow the Valley Trail to Meadow Park, swim in the River of Golden Dreams, throw the ball at the fields and choose from various options there.

We can hike up Alpine Way to its end and take a beautiful trail over and down to Westside Road, stopping to admire the view of the valley from its apex. Or we can head up towards the waterworks and proceed to the Flank Trail or even make the long trek all the way to Emerald if we really want to make a day of it.

We can walk to the end of Valley Drive, strap on snowshoes – me, not Zippy – and enjoy(?) a gruelling grind up past the other waterworks and up and up and up to… well, we’ve never actually found out how far that trail goes.

Or we can follow the labyrinthine trails straight off the end of Valley Drive. There’s quite a network of trails in there that wind through the forest and, again if one perseveres, take you all the way to Emerald.

But there’s a new sign at the start to those trails. It’s a homemade sign encased in plastic and stapled to a stake. It advises people that the trails they’re about to tramp are in danger of being lost forever. It hints of a nefarious plot, of wool pulled over the eyes of unsuspecting homeowners by the municipality and urges the reader to take heart, it’s not too late to let the scoundrels know yer agin’ it.

The threat to those beautiful trails comes, of course, from Whistler. It’s Our Future! It comes in the form of infill housing. Employee housing. Affordable housing. Social housing. It comes from the need to grapple with the mistakes of the past or watch the future disappear into a haze of outsized, empty vacation homes owned by the rich and the vacuous.

The sign decries the loss of the trails, the loss of privacy, the loss of enjoyment. It warns of startling increases in traffic.

And it includes the soul-salving rationalization that Alpine, because of the 19 Mile Creek project, has "…already done its part…" in the war on Aspenization.

I read the sign as I cinched up my snowshoes and I thought about it as I packed down the new, wet snow. My thoughts were interrupted only when Zippy shoved his slobbery, deflated, half-naked tennis ball against my leg to remind me to throw it into the woods so he could gambol through the snow to find it.

I remembered Eckhard Zeidler’s long letter in the previous week’s Pique. Now, Eckhard’s a thoughtful, smart guy and knows a lot about urban sprawl, planning, green things in general and he was clearly warning about just this kind of thing. Doing the math and determining the various growth scenarios would require 32 new apartment style buildings in the nature of Beaver Flats, 26 new Spruce Grove townhouse developments and 10 new Barnfield-like single-family plots, Eckhard wondered whether infill was the way to go.

He worried that infilling would destroy habitat, green space, forest, wetlands, wildlife migration corridors and squeeze out these very trails so valued by the people who use them. He was concerned the proposed development – albeit a long-term project – just wouldn’t appeal to young and maturing families who preferred a bit of dirt around them to more dense housing options.

Heck, he even raised the spectre of this whole place becoming Mickey Mouse, Goofy becoming more than just a snowboarding stance and Donald Duck moving in, no doubt to be closer to his rich uncle Scrooge who will undoubtedly buy one of Whistler’s many sprouting McMansions.

What he didn’t say, and what is surely no secret, is that he would, himself, kind of like to have a little single-family place with a bit of dirt around it and he sees the Callaghan option as being the most likely one to deliver it.

Ironically, just a few pages later was the news story about how most of the people who bothered to express a preference preferred going the infill route. We don’t know the actual numbers because the math was apparently hard enough the Muni had to farm out the tabulation to Simon Fraser University. That’s understandable. Math is hard and percentages are really hard. Let’s just hope those pointyheaded university types don’t come back and express them in decimals for chrissakes.

So anyway, I was really thinking hard about all this and Zippy was getting pretty annoyed that I wasn’t spending enough time throwing his ball into snowbanks when I had the epiphany. Now, I’d like to say the clouds parted and brilliant shafts of sunlight speared through the trees, sparkled off the snow and made the whole place come alive with air-diamonds but none of that happened. No Voice of God, no whitelight, no heartstopping Aha! moment.

I did see the error of my ways though. I realized how wrong I’d been. I fully understood how stupid it was of me to even think of giving up these trails without a fight. Of losing the option – nay dude, the right – to tramp these very trails instead of having that choice eliminated for some nebulous greater good. I understood how selfish it was for me to deny anyone their little patch of dirt down in the Callaghan just to cling stubbornly to the hope this valley wouldn’t become clogged with commuting cars and exhaust-generated air pollution.

I saw the light, metaphorically speaking, and the light was the light of enlightened self-interest.

How could I have been so wrong?