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Squamish election – SAS questions to successful candidates

Before the municipal election, SAS asked all of the candidates to answer four questions. About half the candidates responded. Of the seven candidates recently elected to council, five gave responses. The questions and responses are noted below.

QUESTIONS

1. Low-cost visitor camping

Context. In May 2018 our society wrote an open letter to DoS and the MLA requesting clearer policy toward the large volume of informal camping on crown land within Squamish’s municipal boundaries during the summer. Since then, we have partnered with DoS and local provincial representatives (conservation and natural resource officers, etc) in a working group examining the issue. Progress has already been made on policy intentions but there is more work remaining on bylaws to underpin enforcement and provision of alternative overflow camping to which campers evicted from sensitive locations can be relocated. (It is legal to camp on crown land for up to 14 days so it is unrealistic to expect that all visitors will pay to camp.)

Our question. Assuming that the costs are not excessive relative to DoS’ existing annual spend on “adventure” infrastructure like mountain bike trails, would you support spending on a no-frills free or low-fee campground well away from residential areas and sensitive environmental zones?

2. Smoke Bluffs governance

Context. The Smoke Bluffs municipal park was recognised in 2007 explicitly as “an area for Rock Climbing in the District of Squamish”. It is widely believed to be the busiest climbing venue in Canada. The park boundary encompasses both municipal land and parcels bought by climbers in the 1980s and now held in trust by the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC (FMCBC). Since inception, the park’s governance has included volunteer representation by climbing advocacy groups (including SAS and the FMCBC) and other recreation advocacy groups on a select committee of council. In 2017 the governance framework was modified further by a management plan, developed by the committee over the preceding two years, and accepted by council, reducing the number of committee meetings, so as to consume less district staff time, and clarifying budgets for maintenance and capital spending. The committee is now learning to work within that framework to continue the development of the park.

Our question. Can you pledge that as councillor/ mayor you would not vote for any further change to the Smoke Bluffs governance structure within the next council term?

3. South Parks transit experiment

Context. For the last 2-3 years our society has been lobbying for transit and car-pool parking provision to provincial parks south of Squamish. A trial service was introduced in 2018. However groups like ours were not consulted on the detail. In our opinion, the route chosen was poor, especially the use of downtown Squamish as the hub – as it has very little parking for out-of-town users. We would have recommended a hub location with parking capacity like the adventure centre. We also question the choice of stops. Murrin Park was omitted and the S2S Gondola included (even though it is a private business that had already been funding its own shuttle). We expect that the poor route choice will result in low ridership data from the experiment.

Our question. If the South Parks service comes up for review by council, can you pledge not to simply accept the experiment as failed, and instead recommend that recreational advocates like our group are consulted on a revision to the route for the 2019 season?

4. Improved backcountry access

Context. In 2014 the district adopted the “Hardwired for Adventure” branding, implicitly recognising that investment in outdoor recreation infrastructure is an important economic driver for the town. However the 2014-2018 council has done nothing to add “hardwiring” to the Squamish area, other than grants to mountain bike trail developers and valley bottom trail expansion. There has been no strategic plan to increase access to outdoor recreation terrain, and in some cases there has been poorly-researched opposition to new ideas. In contrast, during a similar time period, Pemberton district funded the Mt Currie hiking trail opening up significant alpine terrain. We believe there is an urgent need to increase the number of access points, not least as visitor numbers of all kinds, both casual hikers as well as more “serious” adventurers, increase every year and over-crowd existing locations. Many popular access points rely on serendipity, mostly logging roads that happen to have been re-graded recently for non-recreational reasons (the Waterspite Lake access is a good example), or private provision like the S2S Gondola or helicopter services. BC Parks access points like the Diamond Head trailhead were institutionalised decades ago and no new access points have been added since.

Our question. Would you support a working group comprised of district staff and representation from groups like ours to initiate proposals for new backcountry access points within or close to the municipality?

RESPONSES

Karen Elliott

1. I think we need to recognize that campers and van-dwellers are going to come here and want to stay for extended periods of time. I will work with council to strengthen our relationships with provincial bodies to support more enforcement in sensitive areas as was begun this year, however increasing it will take additional funds and that will be a decision of council. I do think we need to encourage the development of more low-cost camping by working with groups like SAS and the province to find suitable locations and put the basic amenities in place. Rather than pushing against the flow, we can take the approach of places like Lander, Wyoming which has created campgrounds and a campground community so that climbers feel welcome and have a place to stay that doesn’t conflict with the locals.

2. The current governance structure seems to be working. If it is working for the committee, staff and council and achieving its aims, I’m not sure why we would change it. If the governance structure is not successfully achieving the goals of the management plan then I think it’s incumbent on all parties to have a frank conversation about how to improve the situation. I would not support any unilateral move by the DoS to change something without consultation and input of all parties first.

3. The South Parks transit route is a pilot project and should be evaluated as such. It’s aim was to see if people would use it for recreation, but also for getting employees to the gondola. BC Transit and our staff looked at the turnarounds and timing of going to Murin etc. We were trying to balance frequency and also easy of access and safety on and off of the highway at each stop as we are using a large bus (we didn’t want to have to buy new vehicle for a pilot). I’m looking forward to the results coming in and working with council on how to make improvements or changing some of the parameters and trying again. I think we also need to be open to a private operator taking a look at the south parks route as part of the pilot as well, this could be a way to improve frequency and use a smaller vehicle. Transit always comes down to frequency and timeliness and if we can’t meet those expectations of the people interested in the route than something needs to change. Fundamentally though, a pilot project never “fails” – its purpose is to provide data and learning so that we can make better decisions going forward.

4. The answer for me comes down to capacity locally, council priorities (of which I would be just one vote) and interest by other levels of government. I think this next council needs to continue to join with our government partners across the corridor to put pressure on the provincial government to improve their campground and trailhead infrastructure in this region and look at spreading out the throngs of people. This might actually be a discussion between groups like yours as well as the SLRD Area Director D, the DoS and the province to look at plans and opportunities. We can be part of the conversation and convene the players, but can’t require access on land we don’t control. Remember too that Squamish Nation would need to be very involved in any discussion about greater backcountry access. They have many interests – cultural, food, spirit, resources, etc. and would play a critical role in decision making. The community will want their say too. Happy to start the conversation and figure out the most effective means to achieve some of what you’re after.

Jenna Stoner

1. There is no doubt that the increase in recreation tourism has put a strain on our existing facilities and infrastructure. The #vanlife movement is starting to wear on our local residents who wake up to rows of vans in a few key hotspots. I would like to thank SAS for the work they have done to date, along with District staff, to develop outreach and eduction material about appropriate camping locations in an effort to help alleviate some of the immediate pressure. I am fully supportive of working towards a low-fee campground in the short- to medium-term as a more permanent solution to the challenge at hand.

2. It can be difficult to find the correct governance structure for any given committee. I truly believe that once a direction has been set, you need to work under that structure for a while in order to determine if it is an effective governance structure or not (making small tweaks as needed). Continuously changing and amending a governance structure can make it difficult to get the work done and can often cause burnout among your board. As such, I can pledge that I would not vote for any further changes to the Smoke Bluffs governance structure in the near future. That said, if significant issues were brought forward with regards to the functionality of the current structure then I think it would be prudent to review as necessary.

3. The short answer on this is yes. I think it is fabulous that we had a South Parks pilot project this summer, but agree that the pilot project fell short of addressing the needs of those it was trying to service.

4. The challenge with many backcountry access points is that they fall outside of the Districts jurisdictional authority. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be evaluating and supporting additional access points, but it does mean that we need more people at the table (e.g. SLRD and BC Parks). I am not opposed the the idea of striking a working group on this topic; however, I am (to be very honest) not fully aware of the opportunities and challenges of bringing all the necessary stakeholders to the table on this. I would personally love to see increased backcountry access – for example by footbridge to the Tantalus (with a quota system if necessary) – and would be happy to work with SAS and other stakeholders to find a way to make that happen.

Doug Race

1. Generally yes. I supported District contributions to the site on the Mamquam River and feel that we can use more of such campsites in appropriate locations.

2. I am not willing to make such commitment. Circumstances can change over four years however I am not aware of any interest in changing the present governance structure.

3. I expect the performance during this trial period will come up for review in the near future and would welcome community input.

4. If the proposed access points were within municipal boundaries then I would be happy to have staff consider them. I think generally we have an issue with tourism infrastructure and trail head capacity is one element of that. However, if the access point is outside of municipal boundaries then it is an issue for the Regional District and would require their participation. It could be a partnership with the Regional District if there were common benefits. It would depend on the specific location.

Eric Anderson

1. I do support the District pursuing a campground strategy – i.e., investing in a review of candidate short term and long term sites. I have brought to the District’s attention one candidate site on crown agency land within the District. However, I would prefer that the greater investment on the part of the District be directed to bylaw enforcement, signage and information. The Squamish Camping Guide https://squamish.ca/recreation/camping/ is a good information initiative. The District should continue, or reconvene next summer, its Squamish Unsanctioned Camping Working Group initiative. The May 2018 Access Society letter to the District and Province was an example of the ongoing leadership of the SAS in our efforts to confront camping issues. The letter did, however, prompt two letters from commercial campground operators – which related concerns about the prospect of the District providing “’free’ camping locations”, were quite well informed about unsanctioned camping issues, and which offered some perspectives and suggestions. I suggest that private campground operators should be consulted regarding District course of action with respect to campground operations under District auspices. I believe it is the Province which must take the lead in funding new no-frills Recreation Sites, on Crown land.

2. My longstanding observation is that the governance model for the Park with climbing advocacy and recreation groups representatives appointed to a volunteer committee has worked very well. I can pledge I would not support changes to this governance structure.

3. This is a suggestion that I can definitely support. The omission of Murrin Park was disappointing, considering its popularity and often severe parking challenges there. The entire highway corridor between the Stawamus bridge and Darrell Bay needs collaborative review and planning (including District, recreation groups, businesses, MOTI and BC Parks) regarding highway safety, transit and all transportation modes.

4. I would support such a working group with diverse representation including outdoor recreation groups. However, it is essential that the Province be fully engaged in such an initiative. BC Parks and the Forests and Lands agencies have been starved for staff and funding resources for too long. The advocacy role for the District vis-à-vis the provincial government in this is important.

Chris Pettingill

1. In general, yes. However, I would hope that there might be a mechanism whereby a private or NFP operator might manage this (maybe on District or Crown land). In general, now that our tourism economy is booming, I’d like to see if there’s a way to have tourism businesses fund some of this sort of thing. The municipality’s authority to levy sector-specific fees is limited, but I’d like to think we might be able to use social pressure and community-spirit to develop a voluntary fund that could help with things like this park, trail maintenance, litter clean up etc.

2. As long as FMCBC owns the Smoke Bluffs land that it does, I think the governance will ultimately be up to FMCBC. As long as local climbers are able to join SAS, then I think it makes sense for SAS to be part of the governance team. If those lands are transferred to the District then I would suggest that any preferred governance structure be enshrined in any land sale / covenant agreement. I see no particular reason to advocate for changes to the governance structure at this point, and I’d hesitate to try to make changes that FMCBC and SAS weren’t in favour of, especially while this land is under the ownership or control of FMCBC.

3. Yes. I expect that with the rapid growth of our community, we need would be smartest to see our transit as a perpetual experiment. We should be constantly re-evaluating and improving (while recognizing that constantly shifting schedules can also be an obstacle).

4. In terms of municipal involvement, I would look to our Economic Development department and/or Tourism Squamish to understand the relative priority of this. That would impact whether/when I would support a working group. Having said that, I don’t think there’s any reason not to start with a stakeholder group that is not led by the district (but district staff could be invited). Hopefully that group could discuss the relative priority of this, and make a corresponding ask of staff and/or council for next steps. I expect the climbing/hiking/tourism users/operators would have a better sense of the importance of this relative to other things requiring attention (i.e. low cost camping) than council would. If there’s some basic support that might be required to enable the initial meetings, I’d certainly consider that.

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