The Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) asked Whistler council for a significant increase in fee-for-service funding at council's Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 8.
The day before the meeting, WORCA president Dale Mikkelsen explained that the prior three-year fee-for-service agreement provided $50,000 per year, though other temporary funding, such as $20,000 a year for the construction and maintenance of the Alpine Trail Network (primarily Lord of the Squirrels) and $5,000 for the Culture Climb trail, was helpful.
However, Mikkelsen added that WORCA is now spending upwards of $100,000 a year in maintenance costs, and while Whistler as a community was among the vanguard to fund organizations like WORCA, other similar-minded communities have since surpassed Whistler in terms of support. WORCA is asking to triple its base funding to $150,000 a year to help support the province's largest trail network measured in kilometres, and its second-largest mountain-biking organization.
"We certainly don't want to be unthankful for the RMOW. They were certainly a leader in providing this kind of funding at all," Mikkelsen said. "Over the years, in the three years that fee-for-service has been in place, a lot of other regional districts and municipalities took the precedent of WORCA to their own municipalities and realized both the economic and community resource that trail-building was and trails were."
After analyzing other similar mountain-bike-tourism communities, Mikkelsen said WORCA found that all but Revelstoke provided local organizations with funding ranging between $80,000 and $125,000 a year despite many of those communities having fewer kilometres of trails and a smaller riding population.
Mikkelsen cited the Sea to Sky Mountain Biking Economic Impact Study, which found WORCA-maintained trails generated more than $13 million in initial expenditure and nearly $16 million in industry output. As well, with the Resort Municipality of Whistler reaping about $250,000 in taxes, contributing to WORCA's request would leave the muni well in the black, he reasoned.
"There is significant financial gain for the RMOW and the businesses in the town because of the mountain-bike infrastructure that WORCA maintains," he said.
While mountain-bike use on the trails is increasing, Mikkelsen also explained that other users, such as e-bike riders and trail runners, are also using the trails more and boosting maintenance needs. WORCA doesn't have exact counts at this time, as the trail counters don't account for the type of user, but general use is up between 50 and 75 per cent since 2016 while trail running across the continent is seeing sharp increases. Two major races with between 400 and 500 runners have approached WORCA to use the trails it maintains in 2019.
WORCA is also in the process of compiling results from a recent e-bike survey, and while the activity and its trail impact is currently minimal, there is room for it to grow in the next three years over the course of the agreement.
The increase, Mikkelsen explained, would also allow for WORCA to build a contingency fund in order to account for weather damage in coming years. In 2018, he said, a full quarter of the budget was used to restore infrastructure, such as bridges and significant portions of trails near Sproatt Creek, from winter damage.
"We spent $100,000 in 2018 just trying to get caught up. Where are we going to be in 2021?" he said. "(The damage) was (to) a trail over a significant creek that connects a lot of the west-side trails together, so it wasn't one of those things where we could live without that for a year. The reconstruction of the bridge was pretty imperative."
Mikkelsen said that WORCA's lead trail-builder Dan Raymond looked at the numbers and estimated that the contribution would need to be increased in order to keep the trails at acceptable standards.
"If (the agreement) renewed at just $50,000 again, with the number of trails we now have to maintain, we would see a slow decline in the quality," Mikkelsen said, adding that WORCA's goal is for new builds to be supported by its own fundraising.
Mayor Jack Crompton said after the presentation that the proposal will go through the RMOW's budget process and a decision will be announced in the spring.
"It's viewing the ask in the context of the full municipal budget," he said.
Crompton said WORCA does "incredible work" and that he was most struck by mountain biking's economic impact in the community, but reiterated that the organization's request must be weighed against all other budgetary elements.