May 18, 2016
Response from Jim Standen, Assistant Deputy Minister re: Dispute over public access through Whistler Blackcomb CRA to Singing Pass trailhead
Jim Standen's reply to the letter of April 21, 2016 (see below)
Thank you for your email of April 21, 2016, addressed to the Honourable Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, regarding over public access to the Singing Pass trailhead. As Assistant Deputy Minister for BC Parks, I am pleased to respond.
BC Parks is working closely with the Mountain Resorts Branch to find a solution to this issue that will provide safe public access to Singing Pass. A working group has been established to facilitate communication and cooperation between the user groups, stakeholders, local land managers, and municipal and provincial government.
Whistler Blackcomb has a legal obligation to provide public access through both its Whistler and Blackcomb Controlled Recreation Areas; however, this commitment extends to pedestrian access only, and such access is subject to the rights of Whistler Blackcomb to control access within the Controlled Recreation Areas, as stated in the 1982 Master Development Agreement. The relevant excerpts are included on page 5 of a backgrounder that has been prepared by the working group about this issue, and is attached for your reference.
The working group has identified a solution that will involve considerable investment in trail improvements to the existing Singing Pass trail. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, BC Parks and Whistler Blackcomb are combining resources to upgrade and re-route the trail. These trail improvements will address public safety concerns created by the Fitzsimmons slump and by more recent washouts along Flute and Harmony Creeks. This will provide a safer route for summer and winter use. In addition to the trail improvements, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is also seeking to establish the trail under Section 56 of the Forest and Range Practices Act.
Vehicle access to the park (or closer proximity to the park) has been explored and is not considered feasible at this time. The road on the Blackcomb side of the valley presents a number of challenges to public use, including its industrial nature for the purpose of ski hill operations and maintenance. There are multiple tenures along this road, including a Crown land lease for the Whistler Sliding Centre, which has controlled access and protocol agreements in place with users of the road. The road is not intended for public use.
The attached backgrounder also provides additional detail about the options that have been considered and the solution that is proposed.
Thank you again for taking the time to write.
Jim Standen, Assistant Deputy Minister, BC Parks and Conservation Officer Service Division
2020 takes exception to the following statements by Mr. Standen:
Whistler Blackcomb has a legal obligation to provide public access through both its Whistler and Blackcomb Controlled Recreation Areas; however, this commitment extends to pedestrian access only, and such access is subject to the rights of Whistler Blackcomb to control access within the Controlled Recreation Areas, as stated in the 1982 Master Development Agreement.
Schedule A of the 1982 Master Development Agreement clearly shows the Fitzsimmons Creek road as "public access road" and "park access right-of-way". Mr. Standen is confusing hiking trails with public roads when he states the commitment is for pedestrian access.
Secondly, article 14.06 of the MDA states:
An instrument conveying Crown Land to Whistler under this Article shall be subject to any statutory right-of-way that burdens the Crown land.
Fitzsimmons Creek road is such a statutory right-of-way. Under the Land Title Act, the public are the dominant tenement and Whistler Blackcomb are the servient tenement. What this means is that Whistler Blackcomb is in violation of the Land Act as it is restricting public vehicle access up Fitzsimmons Creek. Moreover, Whistler Blackcomb is failing to live up to its responsibility under the 1982 MDA to restore and maintain the Fitzsimmons Creek road and parking lot.
The backgrounder document that Mr. Standen refers to in his closing paragraph is available below. See the "gorgon" icon.
April 21, 2016
Dispute over public access through Whistler Blackcomb CRA to Singing Pass trailhead
2020 obtained a copy of the following letter.
April 21, 2016\\\He stated that Whistler Blackcomb does not have a "legal obligation for public vehicle access". Moreover, he states that free public access is permitted only between May and November each year. These statements were made to The Squamish Chief newspaper and published April 13, 2016. The article can be seen at the following web URL: http://www.squamishchief.com/news/local-news/squamish-nation-essential-to-whistler-blackcomb-expansion-1.2230075
The Honourable Steve Thomson
Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations
Room 248, Parliament Buildings
Re: Dispute over public access through Whistler Blackcomb CRA to Singing Pass trailhead
I am working with several recreation organizations to restore public vehicular access to the Singing Pass trailhead. The trailhead is at the boundary of Garibaldi Provincial Park at Fitzsimmons Creek. Its access road goes from Whistler Village through the Whistler Blackcomb controlled recreation area (CRA). At dispute is the position of Whistler Blackcomb. It was recently enunciated by Doug Forseth, its vice-president of planning, government relations and special projects.
Pave the road to the park boundary and provide public parking
I strongly dispute Whistler Blackcomb's position. It does have a legal obligation to maintain access to the trailhead. Free access is permitted year round. Our position is backed by legal documents signed by Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation in 1982. The organizations that I work with, namely Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C., Alpine Club of Canada (Whistler section), GaribaldiPark2020.com and others in the backcountry recreation community are working on behalf of all outdoor enthusiasts. We never agreed to give up our right of public access.
Our position is also shared by BC Parks. In the 2014 Spearhead amendment to the Garibaldi Park master plan, it states that BC Parks will “Work with adjacent land managers to establish a new vehicle-accessible trailhead on the north side of Fitzsimmons Creek to provide summer access to the Singing Pass Trail.” At this time, myself and others know that your department, Mountain Resorts Branch is working against BC Parks' high priority strategy and the public interest. MRB seems to be taking its cue from Whistler Blackcomb. The corporation and MRB want the public to park in Whistler Village. That adds an extra five kilometers to a hike along a relatively boring section of old logging road. The public right-of-way is now shared with groomers, mountain bikes and ATVs. That is not the type of experience we are seeking. What the public wants is to park at the park boundary so they can spend more time enjoying the solitude and glories of Singing Pass and Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Whistler Blackcomb's objections are weak and self-serving. For example, they cite that the access road would be dangerous to the public. There is a new road that passes by the sliding centre built for the 2010 winter Olympics. That road is paved. The road passes an unfenced area containing scrap parts referred to as the "bone yard". Whistler Blackcomb pretends it presents a threat to the public. The objections are ludicrous. They would be easy to remedy. The access road can be paved all the way and the bone yard fenced.
A map showing the road access that is in dispute and the new road can be viewed at the following URL: https://garibaldipark2020.com/all-about-garibaldi-park/garibaldi-park-chronology/singing-pass-trail-fiasco
Whistler Blackcomb stands to gain financially from their stance. If hikers have to start from Whistler Village many will take Whistler's lifts to gain the Musical Bumps trail in the alpine.
At the heart of the issue are assurances dating back to 1968 by then-Minister of Recreation and Conservation, Ken Kiernan. In response to a letter from the B.C. Mountaineering Club about the self-same issue, the honourable minister stated "We can assure you that no Park Use Permit will be issued to the above company [Garibaldi Lifts Limited] without due consideration being given to the effect that it will have on public access to and within Garibaldi Park." He is referring to the preservation of existing access routes into the park, e.g. the former mining road and Fitzsimmons Creek Trail to the new [in 1968] shelter at Singing Pass. These letters can be viewed at the following web URL: https://garibaldipark2020.com/all-about-garibaldi-park/garibaldi-park-chronology/singing-pass-trail-fiasco/singing-pass-fiasco-historical-documents-the-1960-s
The Whistler Mountain 1982 Master Development Agreement between the Minister of Lands, Parks and Housing and Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation went further. It enshrined the public right-of-way to the park boundary as a legal obligation taken on by Whistler Mountain. In the agreement, article IV, section 4.03 (a) states "Whistler shall provide or cause to be provided Access Routes (a) by way of dedicated or gazetted road or by way of right-of-way to each Parking Facility". Schedule A of the agreement clearly delineates both the access road, parking facility and trail. The trailhead parking lot is five kilometers up Fitzsimmons Creek and near the park boundary. A high resolution image of Schedule A with annotations can be viewed at the following web URL: http://garibaldipark2020.com/all-about-garibaldi-park/documents/whistler-blackcomb
In my mind, the text of the agreement coupled with Schedule A enjoins an unambiguous legal obligation on Whistler Blackcomb. They must allow public vehicular access to the parking lot at the park boundary.
On April 5, 2016 I spoke with Tori Meeks, Acting Senior Manager, Major Projects. In that phone conversation, Ms. Meeks stated that the legal obligation was "written away" and she is "championing" public access that does not meet that obligation. Since the order was written away, it must have existed.
When did Mountain Resorts Branch and Whistler Blackcomb enter into an agreement to write away our legal rights? Was there a specific document whereby those rights were abolished? Was there a specific document whereby those rights were not mentioned and thereby lapsed? Why was the public not informed?
Is Mountain Resorts Branch objective and independent? It sides with Whistler Blackcomb corporation to work against the mountain clubs representing the public interest. Why does Mountain Resorts Branch stand against BC Parks' strategic interest and the commitment made by your predecessor in provincial cabinet?
Under what authority can Mountain Resorts Branch "write away" the public right of access? Is this action, the so-called writing away of legal rights even legal? What exactly does it mean that the legal obligation was written away? As a Senior Manager of Major Projects, Tori Meeks must have the answers. I want those answers to be provided.
To be fair, the dispute is not new. It has been an ongoing issue with those of us in the outdoors communitiy for over sixteen years. Granted, the Fitzsimmons Creek road suffered a landslip that rendered it unsafe. There is now a new road. The Olympic sliding centre road and the recent completion of the Fitzsimmons clean energy project have now provided a viable access road to the park boundary. That is why we are revisiting the issue today. With the recent granting of park use permits to build Spearhead huts it is even more important that we have public parking at the park boundary.
Mountain Resorts Branch: withhold approval of Whistler Blackcomb's Renaissance project
It is time to force Whistler Blackcomb to live up to its legal obligations. It willingly took on those obligations in 1982 in return for the generous concessions granted to it by way of its CRA. Whistler Blackcomb is now requesting approval of its Renaissance project. Approval by Mountain Resorts Branch must be withheld until Whistler Blackcomb reverses its opposition, paves the road to the park boundary and provides public parking. The right of public access must be written back into the Whistler Blackcomb master plan.[Signatory name withheld]cc: The Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Environment
cc: George Heyman, MLA
April 21, 2016
Singing Pass Trail through the Whistler Blackcomb Controlled Recreation Areas - Backgrounder, Mountain Resorts Branch
Hikers: walk an extra 5 km of boring logging road - Mountain Resorts Branch
Yep, that's what Mountain Resorts Branch wants for you. Run a gauntlet of ATVs and mountain bikes flying through the air. Lucky you if you make it further than the pass. Repeat on the way back.
|Singing Pass Trail through the Whistler Blackcomb Controlled Recreation Areas, Mountain Resorts Branch (800 KB)|
The Province understands that FMCBC and ACC would like the public to have the ability to drive up to a higher elevation (as was previously available prior to the Fitzsimmons Slump) to decrease the amount of hiking distance and allow a quicker and more aesthetic access into Garibaldi Park. The working group has determined that private vehicle access either on the Blackcomb Mountain road to the intake or through the bike park on the existing Singing Pass Trail is not possible...
News from the Twilight Zone
- Hikers passing through the bike park are creating conflicts. They are crossing downhill bike trails leading to safety concerns that bike riders might be injured.
- Public vehicle access would conflict with Whistler Blackcomb's resort operations.
- Bike riders could be injured by vehicles.
- It is a complex issue.
The reality is...
- The Singing Pass Trail and Fitzsimmons Creek access road were in existence for 50 years or more.
- Whistler Mountain took on a legal obligation in 1982 to preserve and maintain public access including vehicle access to the parking lot near the park boundary. In return, they were granted the controlled recreation area.
- Whistler Blackcomb developed a bike park knowing full well of the conflicts it was creating. Whistler Blackcomb created the safety problem not hikers.
- It is the hikers that will suffer physical injury not armour-laden stunt riders flying through the air on a bike weighing 100 pounds.
- It is a simple issue.
How simple is it?
Pave the road to the park boundary and provide public parking.
Whistler Blackcomb must remove inappropriate developments. Whistler Blackcomb must honour its legal obligations. Mountain Resorts Branch must not approve inappropriate developments that threaten public safety. Mountain Resorts Branch must work in the public interest and not act as a shill for Whistler Blackcomb.
Letter from Bryce Leigh, Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC to Norman Lee, Executive Director, Mountain Resorts Branch
Letter from Bryce Leigh, Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC and Rupert Merer, ACC Whistler to Tori Meeks, Land Officer, Mountain Resorts Branch
Letter from Singing Pass advocate Lesley Bohm to Pique Newsmagazine
Lesley Bohm writes about the lack of consideration given by BC Parks and Whistler-Blackcomb to provide access to Singing Pass Trail. The letter was published in Pique Magazine.