Initial feedback on the potential "Madeley Highline Trail" in the Callaghan Valley has revealed a deep divide on the proposal.
The Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL), which runs the multi-million dollar Olympic Nordic facility is investigating the potential of a lift-accessed green trail stretching eight kilometres from the top of the ski jumps to Madeley Lake. It's part of an overall business directive to grow the sport of cross country skiing and close the $1.5 million gap in operating Whistler Olympic Park (WOP).
Last week the Forest and Wildland Advisory Committee (FWAC), a nine-member committee of council, talked about the proposal and the discussion showed a diverse range of views from unmitigated support to serious concerns.
"There was, as usual with that committee, a vigorous discussion representing a variety of perspectives which is part of the strength of that group," said FWAC chair Gordon McKeever.
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, who sits on FWAC, said his concerns range from the encroachment into grizzly bear territory to preventing future development into the mid to Upper Callaghan area.
Part of the area of the proposed trail is in a Wildland zone, so designated as part of the lengthy Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP), of which Zeidler was a part.
In that plan Wildland zones allow trails but not roads. The proposed Madeley Highline Trail will cut a 15-metre wide swath. The ski trail itself will be much narrower.
"Is this a trail or is it a road?" asked Zeidler.
"We were very intentional in creating what we informally called our 'lucky Olympic horseshoe' (of protected areas) around the (Nordic) venue. It was with the specific intention of containing future development in the mid to upper Callaghan, to contain it in the Whistler Olympic Park tenure."
The proposed trail steps out of the WOP tenure.
WSL president and CEO Keith Bennett cautioned, however, that the society has not yet committed to building the trail. First it needs to ensure that it meets the business objectives of WSL - namely creating a green/blue trail for those just getting into the sport.
Roughly 30,000 skiers used the Olympic Park last year. That number needs to grow to 100,000 to 150,000 annual skiers to help relieve the operating shortfall of $1.5 million annually.
"We know the business problem we're trying to solve and that is to develop more skiers and bring them to the Whistler area," said Bennett. "And where we need to develop them is in the entry level and get them committed to becoming cross country skiers to make it part of their lifestyle."
As such the new trail would begin at the top of the ski jump chairlift, which is roughly the same elevation as Madeley Lake, and take skiers eight kilometres deep into the majestic Callaghan.
As far as Tom Barratt, president of Whistler Nordics and also a member of FWAC, is concerned the sooner the trail is built, the better.
"It's a good idea," he said. "In terms of the sport, it's a good idea."
Most of the trails at WOP are intermediate or advanced. This trail would allow more people to get further into the Callaghan.
"A public agency must make their parks and public facilities accessible to all," said Barratt. "You're suddenly enabling a lot of people to see Madeley Lake and experience the old forest they otherwise would not and, to my way of thinking, then they grow to have an appreciation of it and are less likely to damage it. In that sense, in the greater picture and over a long period of time, it's better for the environment to do this than not to do it."
Zeidler believes the opposite to be true.
In fact, allowing a trail, which he sees as more of a road, could set a precedent for other Wildland zones created in the province through land use plans.
Admittedly, he said, the LRMP does not define the width of a trail.
"I'm not surprised to see this application nor will I be surprised to see many more similar applications in the future as Whistler Sports Legacies attempts to figure our how to close the financial deficit in their operations," said Zeidler.
"To me, and I suppose to others, the environmental values and the wilderness character of the mid and upper Callaghan trump economic needs."