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Mountain bikers, Squamish Nation talking

Long-term development plans could conflict with trail access

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Squamish mountain bikers could see their access to trails impacted by a First Nation's development plans, but it's not expected to happen for some time.

The Squamish Nation Community Development Plan shows that the First Nation, whose traditional territory stretches from Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood all the way up to Whistler, plans to add nearly 600 hectares to its reserve land in the Squamish Valley.

Some of those additions are expected to take place at Parcel 3, a 261.9-hectare plot of land that lies above Quest University and just outside the District of Squamish's boundaries. That land could one day accommodate 16,000 members, though actual residential development is expected to take place over decades.

That parcel also resides in the vicinity of several popular intermediate and expert bike trails, including Pseudo Tsuga, Recycle and Home Brew. A number of forest service roads in the area are also popular with mountain bikers. These trails serve as the venues for the annual Gearjammer and Just Another Bike race, which attract hundreds of riders each year.

Mike Nelson, government liaison for the Squamish Off Road Cycling Association (SORCA), a mountain bike club that maintains trails and administers events, said he's had talks with the Squamish Nation towards establishing a Memorandum of Understanding about the trails near Quest.

"We actually had a meeting with the Squamish First Nation in, I believe it was April of this year," he said in an interview. "It was more of an introductory meeting. What it's all going to mean. We more or less agreed to chat in future as things progressed. There's a couple of trails that would be potentially impacted."

Squamish Nation Hereditary Chief Ian Campbell said there's a number of stakeholders who feel they have rights within the Squamish traditional territory and that the First Nation has opened dialogue to a number of them.

"At the provincial level, we have some concerns about what rights recreation users have on top of aboriginal rights and title," he said. "When we start looking at land developments, one thing we always do is create a win-win situation so we can accommodate existing trails or recreational users within our projects."

The Squamish Nation is carrying out its plan in order to accommodate a population that it believes will grow. In 15 years they expect their population to double from about 3,000 members to 6,000, and their long-term plan is projected to accommodate 19,000 members.

Seven out of 10 sites slated for inclusion lie within the boundaries of the District of Squamish. Parcel 2a, for example, measures 44.5 hectares and is located adjacent to fee simple land that the First Nation has already acquired. The parcel is expected to accommodate a population of 1,200 members.

Parcel 7, meanwhile, is located near the Big Orange Bridge within the District of Squamish. Measuring 34.5 hectares, the parcel requires highway access to make development possible, but if built it could accommodate 650 members.

Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner said the District has been aware of the First Nation's plans since last spring. He said discussions towards adding to reserve land have been occurring since the '90s and that the Community Development Plan is a "long term vision" for the First Nation.

"The Squamish Nation has been clear that they wish to provide housing to their membership," he said. "They have stated that their membership is growing and is going to need more land for housing, and that will include Squamish, within the District of Squamish and nearby."

With new housing, the Squamish Nation will require more services such as sewer, water and sanitation, and there's a possibility that the District will have to help provide it. Gardner said the addition of 19,000 Squamish Nation members would have the same impact as 19,000 non-Squamish Nation members on community services.

Asked whether District taxpayers would end up subsidizing services to the reserves, Gardner said "that would not happen." He said the District of Squamish would enter into servicing agreements with the Squaish Nation that could involve payments coming back to the municipality.

 

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