The 190-kilometre Sea to Sky Trail, which will one day link Horseshoe Bay to D'Arcy, is now officially part of a larger project to link all of Canada via the 21,000 km Trans Canada Trail.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District announced the new partnership on April 27, as well as $300,000 in funding support from the Trans Canada Trail Foundation.
"We've been working on this (partnership for a few years), since (the Trans Canada Trail) first made overtures to us back in 2006... and they've been part of our steering committee ever since," explained Gordon McKeever, project manager of the Sea to Sky Trail. "But we needed to get to the point where we could give them a precise route that they could acknowledge. Funding couldn't come through until we registered part of the trail, and we had to get to the points where the route was nailed down and the authorization process was sufficiently far along."
The partnership applies to the route from Whistler to Squamish. The route from Pemberton and Mt. Currie to Lillooet could be eligible for addition as well, as new routes are finalized and developed.
The route from Squamish to Whistler has been finalized, although two problem areas have been identified. One 4 km section is wedged between the Cheakamus River and the Sea to Sky Highway, and the shoulder of the highway is being used as a default trail until that section can be developed. As well, there is a 3.5 km section of highway near Brandywine, and the issue of establishing a pedestrian highway overpass in that area.
"There's gaps," McKeever acknowledged. "It's typical with this type of epic trail, which can take decades or generations between start and completion. Sometimes there is a piece of private land, or some other barriers to completing the preferred route."
McKeever believes that both gaps can be closed, but it will require significant funding above and beyond what has already been provided by the regional district, local governments, provincial and federal governments, private donors and the Trans Canada Trail Society.
There is a lot of work underway for the summer. In Squamish, the District of Squamish opened the first of three sections of trail that will connect the southernmost point of town at the Stawamus Chief parking area with Brackendale to the north. One or both additional sections could be completed this year.
To the north, a request for proposals has been issued to mitigate the Paradise Valley section of trail that is on the Cheakamus Challenge bike route.
"That's the toughest piece of the southern route, it's really rocky, really steep and really isolated," said McKeever, adding that the original path was built during railroad construction in 1913.
Other progress includes a tenure application for the trail from the Chance Creek bridge to Pinecrest, and developing trail from the Bungee Bridge at Calcheak to the Brandywine Provincial Park suspension bridge.
Within Whistler, the Resort Municipality is surveying the route for a new section of Valley Trail that will link the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood with Spring Creek, which will be built in 2010. As well, there will be work on the north section that will wrap around Green Lake following hydro lines and roads.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler funded and built two new sections of the trail last year, from the Cheakeye forest service road to just south of the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood.
The project still needs to finalize the route from Whistler to Pemberton, and is looking for feedback from residents where to build trail. The goal is to minimize highway crossings, but a route along the east side of the highway is difficult.
Eventually, McKeever says they will turn their attention to the section between Squamish and Horseshoe Bay, which is a water route at this point, as well as the section from Pemberton to D'Arcy and Lillooet.
One of the first priorities for the SLRD will be to identify existing sections of the Sea to Sky Trail as part of the national network, and new signage will be installed in the summer.
In the next few weeks McKeever hopes to have a detailed schedule for construction projects, as well as a new website at www.seatoskytrail.ca that is under development.
"We have a lot of momentum right now," McKeever said. "A key piece of the puzzle is the release of a provincial trails strategy, with the vision of doubling tourism by 2015. One of the goals is to establish a network of regional trails through B.C.
"In may ways the Sea to Sky Trail is the poster child for that process... with participation from local governments, First Nations, government ministries. We've created a template for consultation and planning that can be exported to anywhere else in the province."