The Powerhouse Plunge, one of Squamishs most famous mountain bike descents and a central feature of the Test of Metal course, is unofficially on the chopping block.
The Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association (SORCA) learned last week that the forest around The Plunge is in a forest development plan filed by B.C. Timber Sales within the Soo Timber Supply Area. The public input period for the plan ended on March 31.
SORCA has also learned that a buffer of about 20 metres will protect the trail itself, but the development plan does include at least two road crossings. SORCA believes the overall natural experience of the trail will be lost even with a buffer, and that the two proposed road crossings will eat away about 25 per cent of the trail.
In their last meetings with Land and Water B.C. in 2004, SORCA was told that the area was unlikely to be logged in the near future, and the club was caught completely by surprise by the most recent discovery.
SORCA is not opposed to logging, but believe this area is crucial to Squamishs mountain bike community and the towns efforts to be recognized as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada. The Test of Metal mountain bike race alone is estimated to generate $1 million a year for the community, and continues to increase in popularity this year all 800 entries sold out in less than five days.
The Powerhouse Plunge is also popular with hikers and trail runners, and is part of the annual 67 kilometre STORMY trail race.
According to SORCA, the planned cutblock will generate about $2 million in timber, and wont be able to be logged again for at least 50 years. Tourism and recreation will generate far more over the long term.
SORCA is also arguing that the proposed cutblock is too close to a watershed that is of growing importance to Squamish.
Rather than log the area, SORCA would like to see the plan changed to log another area further in the backcountry, protecting growing recreational values.
"The time has come for the province to truly recognize that the backcountry around Squamish is highly valuable as recreation land," said Cliff Miller, founder and organizer of the Test of Metal, and president of SORCA. "This is already or will soon become the most heavily recreated area in B.C. given its close proximity to Vancouver and Whistler."
While the public input period is closed, there is still a chance that the forest development plan will be amended in SORCAs favour or will not go through. SORCA is organizing all of its members and other user groups to contact the Squamish Forest District, B.C. Timber Sales (BCTS), Minister of Forests Michael de Jong and Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland and express their concerns.
In just a few days SORCAs campaign has been effective.
"Its not a working plan, its proposed," said André Germain, the acting operations manager for the Squamish Forest District.
"The review period ended on March 31, but its an ongoing issue obviously and were getting a number of comments. All of the comments have been really similar, all basically dealing with the same issue. Although the public review period is over, BCTS still has to respond to concerns that have been raised."
For the plan to be approved, all public input has to be taken into account by BCTS, then reworked into a plan that is then presented to the Squamish Forest District. The district has the final say over when a plan is approved.
If BCTS goes ahead as planned, the district could rule on the plan within a few months and logging could start as early as this summer.
After being left out of earlier meetings, the SORCA executive will be attending upcoming meetings on the issue between BCTS, the Ministry of Forests and Land and Water B.C. to represent recreation interests at the table.
To raise awareness of the issue, SORCA is also organizing the STP (Save The Plunge) race for Saturday, May 7 to coincide with the opening of the new Squamish Adventure Centre. The opening will be attended by several government officials, including Premier Gordon Campbell.
The race will include several trails, including The Powerhouse Plunge, and gets underway at 11 a.m. More details will be available at www.sorca.ca.