By Alison Taylor
Cross-country skiers and environmentalists appear to be at odds
over the proposed Olympic recreation legacy trails in the Callaghan Valley.
Tension mounted at a recent open house as skiers voiced their
support for 20 to 25 kilometres of recreation trails — which would be in
addition to the 15 kilometres
already built for Olympic Nordic competitions — and environmentalists
expressed concerns about the impacts of the trails, particularly on the
Callaghan’s small grizzly bear population.
Johnny Mikes tried to diffuse the tension at the March 28 open
house, commenting that people aren’t trying to torpedo the project; rather, they
are trying to ensure the trails are built in the best possible way, with the
fewest negative impacts.
“Let’s see what makes the most sense to try to meet both
needs,” he explained after the meeting, which drew roughly 50 members of the
community both from Whistler and Squamish.
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and
Paralympic Winter Games says the trail network can be built in the Madeley
drainage without major impacts to the grizzlies.
“The conclusion in the report is that we can develop it without
significant impacts if we follow through with the management plans and the
mitigation strategies that are recommended in the report,” said George McKay,
VANOC’s director of environmental approvals.
Among the draft commitments in the report, VANOC has said it
will restrict the use of specific trails if sensitive species, such as
grizzlies, are present, and develop and implement a garbage management plan to
prevent wildlife from foraging on garbage.
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, a board member of the Association
of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, questioned the conclusion in
the report, suggesting at the meeting that more work needs to be done to fully
understand the impacts the trails will have on the grizzlies.
He called for Terrestrial Ecosystem Mapping (TEM), which
requires direct air photo interpretation of the ecosystem.
“We don’t have that level of research in the Callaghan,” said
“We haven’t got that basic level of science.”
He questioned why the trails are scheduled for construction
this summer, without all the research complete, when they’re not needed until
after the Games.
McKay explained the trails would be more costly to build later
because the crews and machines are already at work in the Callaghan.
“Budget is a very serious issue here,” said McKay.
VANOC has also learned, from past Games experience, that
getting legacy work accomplished after the Games is much harder.
“The advice that we were getting is ‘plan for it before the
Games are over, capitalize on that point in time and that opportunity,’” said
The recreation trails will cost about $2 million. They will
abut the $119 million Whistler Nordic Centre and help make the centre a legacy
after the Games — a destination cross-country ski resort unlike any other
in the world, with summer amenities for mountain biking, hiking and horseback
Cross-country skier Vesa Suomalainen, who is a seasonal
resident in Whistler, praised the plan as it stands.
“It’s going to be a great attraction for Whistler,” said the
“The environmental people are vocal… I think we need to be
vocal for the venue as well.”
Several others also spoke out in favour of the trails.
The long-range plan for the facility is still up in the air.
A business case, presented at the meeting, points to just over
100,000 people using the facility in 2011. Four years later that number jumps
to almost 160,000 users.
Other future uses could include a tubing park and a luge trail
for kids. The plans show a tent camping area and an RV camping area.
VANOC has no plans to build accommodation at the site.
The provincial Environmental Assessment Office is open for
comments on the recreational trails. The public comment period runs until April
For more information go to www.eao.gov.bc.ca