Backers of a proposed gondola that will span the 2,700 vertical feet between a gravel lot off the Sea to Sky highway and a destination point between the Squamish Chief and Shannon Falls think their project is necessary for Squamish to attract a broader tourist base.
"In our efforts here in Squamish we really felt that tourism is a growth platform and opportunity for Squamish," said David Greenfield, one of the main proponents of the Sea to Sky Gondola. "The challenge with Squamish is that although it has these incredible, world class features like the Chief and Shannon Falls and Howe Sound, a lot of these features are inaccessible to a broader user group. It's great if you're a high performance kite surfer or a mountain climber or biker, but for the general, average population it's a little bit inaccessible."
Greenfield and Trevor Dunn are primaries at GroundEffects, a company that specializes in complex community development projects. They have both worked for Intrawest on resort development projects and for the past two and a half years have been assisting the District of Squamish with the regulatory and business aspects of the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation, as well as other projects including Coast Mountain School and the Whistler Olympic Park.
Another gondola project proposed for the Chief in 2004 was met with opposition, but Greenfield and Dunn feel that changing the location of the Sea to Sky Gondola will improve the project's scope. The gondola would start from a private gravel pit north of Shannon Falls and follow a ridge up Mount Habrich. The top terminal location will end on a broad plateau that feeds into walking, hiking and biking trails. According to Greenfield, the area was previously logged and still features defunct logging trails that can take hikers all the way to Britannia Beach.
"From a practical standpoint, there's nothing more to do at the top of the Chief than just look, so we felt that for an experience that was going to be a much deeper penetration into the tourism market, you'd need to provide an experience at the top of your gondola that allowed people to branch out and do a wide variety of activities," he said. "We believe this experience is really going to extend the stay of the visitor to Squamish. If you can extend the visit of tourists to Squamish, then Squamish turns from being just a roadside stop to actually a destination in itself and if people are here for that length of time they start looking for restaurants, accommodation, retail experiences and other tourist attractions."
Greenfield estimates 200,000 to 250,000 visitors would be attracted to the gondola.
Though environmental impact studies have not yet been conducted, the matter will be addressed to ensure the project won't have any significant impact on the various natural elements nearby.
"At this stage, after talking to BC Parks, it doesn't seem that we would be infringing on any known endangered species, and obviously we're going to have to work with people more knowledgeable than ourselves on that, but early indications are that we are not going over areas that have known habitat," he said. "The area has been logged in the past, it's not like we're going into old growth forests or anything of that nature."
Part of the gondola experience will likely include a lodge for food and beverage and a theatre project celebrating the historical, natural and cultural traditions of the area.
"This can create a lot of jobs and a lot of impacts and other benefits that can go far beyond this and really establish Squamish as a tourism destination and bring a little bit of legitimacy to the term Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada," said Greenfield.
For more information and to weigh in go to www.seatoskygondola.com.