Local tour company Backroads Whistler offers scenic boat tours of the River of Golden Dreams each summer. Unfortunately for owner Eric Wight, however, his staff spends more time than he'd like cleaning trash out of one of the resort's most beloved natural assets.
"Typically we pull about 100 floatie toys out of the river every year, and that's just Backroads Whistler," Wight noted. "For such a cool town, with so many really cool resort locals, the amount of litter that gets thrown in the river is unbelievable. I just don't get it."
Finding trash in the River of Golden Dreams is of course nothing new. Pique has reported on the issue going back several years, but with the resort welcoming more and more visitors each summer, residents and officials are speaking up about the amount of litter that continues to turn up on this idyllic waterway.
"I have to say it's disappointing that some of the users of the River of Golden Dreams do not treat it respectfully. It comes under the heading of, 'What are they thinking?'" said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "Hopefully with some messaging going out about smartening up and some presence by bylaw enforcement and the RCMP, it won't get worse."
Long-time local John Hetherington said he regularly finds golf balls and beer cans on his kayaking trips to Green Lake.
"The most common thing by far are golf balls — there must be dozens of them," he said. "There's one place where I think I counted eight or nine that had collected in a small area."
What's unclear is exactly where the golf balls are coming from — no one seems to be sure if they're the result of errant shots at Nicklaus North, or if they've been carried into the river from Crabapple Creek at the Whistler Golf Club (WGC). Alan Kristmanson of the WGC said it's possible, but unlikely, the balls are coming from his course. He also said it's not unusual for people to shoot balls into the river from Rainbow Park. A call to Nicklaus North was not returned by press time.
Wight, who sends a dedicated crew to clean up the river at least every two weeks in the summer, wondered if there's a creative way to mitigate the problem.
"In the upper reaches (of the river) at the end of the golf course where Crabapple Creek faces the (Whistler Golf Club), if there were some sort of hole or grate that the balls could drop into that allows the debris and the water to keep going, they'd be fishing golf balls out of there like crazy," he said.
Another concern centres around the popular, inflatable Explorer 200 rafts that can be found at several local stores.
"The paddles that are provided are really hard to control," Hetherington said. "Things happen, people get snagged, and there's one place that's really quite difficult to get through — I watched one woman flip over and one canoe have a hard time getting through there. If they have anything in their boat, then it gets out."
Wilhelm-Morden said municipal staff has considered asking resort retailers to stop the sale of the rafts, although she couldn't recall if retailers were ever actually approached.
For now, she's hopeful a combination of existing signage, bylaw enforcement and self-policing by river users, in particular, will curb littering.
"It's incumbent on people who are also using the parks and rivers, if they see some misbehaviour going on... to get a description of the people and give bylaw or RMCP a call," she said. "Don't just turn a blind eye, because this is our town, and everyone has to have some accountability for it."
Wight commended the recent backlash on social media aimed at irresponsible river users, and said a shift in mindset is needed for them to ultimately clean up their act.
"We've got to appeal to the young adult crowd that's doing this and have them police themselves," he said. "Signage and education and tickets and all that, that ain't gonna work. They don't care. But if it's uncool to do, a bunch of them are going to jump on that bandwagon."