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Follow-up submission to DoS re west of river access

The following letter was sent to the District of Squamish as a submission to council’s second reading of the 2040 Official Community Plan.

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“At a board meeting of Squamish Access Society on 18th February, the board voted to continue engagement with the District on the topic of access to the west side of the Squamish river. This is a topic that is mainly of consequence to mountaineers, backcountry skiers and hikers. Our primary mandate is to advocate on behalf of rock climbers, but as there seems to be no local non-profit that advocates for those other user groups, and many of our board are active in those other activities, we are, at least temporarily, widening the scope of our advocacy.

Specifically, we note that the current draft of the OCP removes item 18.6.i which contained language recommending that the District “evaluate proposals for a pedestrian crossing”. We also note that a new item 18.4.i has been added that commits the District to maintain the absence of a pedestrian crossing.

As far as we know, this abrupt change in policy within the OCP has not been made with any consultation with user groups like our society, the Whistler or Vancouver branches of the Alpine Club of Canada, the BC Mountaineering Club or the Federation of Mountaineering Clubs of BC. The only “consultation” that we are aware of has been an article in the Squamish Chief that misrepresented the issue of river access as a threat to the Brackendale Eagle PP. We sent the journalist a copy of the Frank Baumann report on possible river crossing routes, commissioned by DoS in 1998, which quite clearly spells out that possible crossing routes exist that would be several kilometers from the Eagle park. Regrettably, the journalist did not include any of that information in their article. The newspaper then used that article to drive an emotive Facebook “conversation” that contained multiple misunderstandings; for example, that the issue was being promoted by property developers and that it would result in “condos” across the river. We would like to believe that the District and Council makes decisions based on inputs beyond social media noise.

The #1 reason why Squamish should be thinking constructively about access to the west side of the river is that most of the Tantalus Provincial Park, which contains some of the most dramatic peaks in the Coast Mountains, has no legal access other than helicopter flight. This is an astonishing anomaly, and the persistent lack of attention to the issue suggests that the town’s commitment to its self-chosen “Hardwired for Adventure” brand is extremely shallow. As you know, the most common non-helicopter access route in current use involves trespass on First Nation land and a utility company’s cables. The complex canoe crossing in the same location may not involve trespass (though opinions differ on that question) but is necessarily unavailable to hikers or mountaineers attempting through crossings of the range; for example, starting at Sigurd Creek. Furthermore, there is a history of canoes being stolen there.

The 1998 Frank Baumann report makes clear that some kind of pedestrian crossing in the approximate vicinity of the West Coast Railway Heritage Park could link to trails (away from the river) leading through Fry’s Creek into the Tantalus PP. We recommend that anyone interested in this topic read his report and study its maps. (We have linked a copy here: http://squamishaccess.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Squamish-River-Pedestrian-Crossing-Study-1998.pdf ) That trail system dates back to the long period up until the 1960s when the river did have a pedestrian bridge.

Concerns about excessive numbers of visitors spoiling an area perceived as wilderness are of course legitimate. However, we note that a “pedestrian crossing” need not imply a fixed bridge that is always open to an unlimited number of people. Imaginative engineers should be capable of designing a crossing system that could be adaptable to seasonal or time-based closure.

Given the short time remaining until the OCP has to be finalised, we assume it is unrealistic to expect that any informed consultation on this topic will take place (though we would certainly like to see that happen). In light of that, we recommend that, at a minimum, item 18.4.i is removed. That would at least restore the current status quo, in which the District has no committed position on this topic either way.”

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