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Whistler Museum documenting changing conditions of local waterways



"Since the resort’s beginnings as a fishing destination, its waterways have been fundamentally important," Kerry Clark, curator of the Whistler Museum commented in a press release.

"This new archival collection will not only work to document the past; it will help us share images and information describing the changing character and uses of Whistler area rivers with future visitors and local residents. It will help tell the story of this unique aspect of the evolving community and lifestyle that is integral to Whistler."

The Whistler Museum is working together with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Confluence Environmental Consulting, and local non-profit groups to put together the new collection, known as the Whistler Waterways Collection.

According to Ethan Askey, head of Confluence Environmental Consulting, the collection will have plenty of changes to document.

"There are so many human and non-human uses of these rivers that it can be a real challenge to understand and properly manage those uses," he stated in a news release from the Whistler Museum.

Askey noted that rivers across the province are showing obvious symptoms of pressure from many different human activities.

In Whistler, further changes are expected particularly as a result of small hydro projects. "There are something like 64 active applications for water power projects in our regional district right now, in addition to the ones that have already been approved." Askey said in the release. "A large-scale shift is occurring in water utilization and there are important implications for how ecological systems may be altered as a result."

The Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and local "streamkeeper" volunteers are all aware of the ecological strain faced by local rivers; these groups contribute time and energy to monitoring the water quality and aquatic habitat values of many local streams. Through their ongoing efforts, numerous stream protection, rehabilitation and enhancement projects have been completed. Heather Beresford, stewardship supervisor with the RMOW, said that the efforts of these groups have been successful "in many small ways."

"Through this work, many small local streams – for example Crabapple Creek, Jordan Creek, Scotia Creek, and the River of Golden Dreams – are now supporting healthy numbers of fish where previously some were showing real signs of stress from resort and residential development in the valley bottom," said Beresford.

The new collection will also document changes in the nature of recreational river use, including fishing and kayaking.

Kayaking in the Whistler area has evolved from humble beginnings, including hosting the National Slalom Kayak Championships in the 1970s, to its present day incarnation where tumultuous rapids and 10 metre waterfalls are now key to a good run for some expert kayakers. Many rivers that were previously not considered navigable now see frequent recreational use, while other rivers that have long been paddled and enjoyed are now being lost or threatened through development or natural forces.

A recent study completed by Confluence Environmental Consulting identified 100 whitewater runs on 46 different rivers in the district. The most popular runs identified in the study were on the upper Cheakamus River, Callaghan Creek, Ashlu Creek, Elaho River Canyon, and the Ryan River.

Many popular whitewater runs are in areas considered candidates for hydro power development.

On Rutherford Creek, newly engineered whitewater facilities are currently being constructed to compensate for the loss of a whitewater run. A 550 metre-long artificial stream channel is being built by Cloudworks Energy through collaboration with the Whitewater Kayak Association of B.C. and local paddling clubs.

Natural forces have also resulted in changes to local river systems. The October 2003 floods rearranged some waterways, including creating a new 4-metre waterfall at the start of the upper Cheakamus River run.

The Whistler Museum hopes to document these and other changes in its Whistler Waterways Collection. According to Clark, the museum is now accepting photographs depicting "anything to do with Whistler waterways."

For more information, to become involved, or to donate photographs to the Whistler Waterways Collection, contact Ethan Askey at 604-938-3131 or Kerry Clark at 604-932-2019.

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