Local outdoor clubs are raising concerns about limited access to Garibaldi Provincial Park heading into what is expected to be a record-breaking year for backcountry use in the Sea to Sky corridor.
The most pressing concern the groups highlight is the “no parking/tow away” signs that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure installed along Highway 99 and the Rubble Creek access road last year, which offers access to numerous popular winter backcountry locations like the Garibaldi Neve Traverse, Black Tusk, Garibaldi Lake, Mount Price, Sphinx Bay, Burton Hut and the surrounding peaks.
On Nov. 18, the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC (FMCBC), which represents the interests of outdoor clubs across the province, wrote a letter to BC Parks officials and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy asking them to consider plowing the Rubble Creek access road and parking area for about $12,000 to $18,000 a year. The FMCBC argues that road maintenance contractor Miller Capilano passes by the area regularly and could easily clear the area as a secondary priority.
“With the growing interest in winter backcountry recreation (snowshoeing, hiking and ski touring) and the huge urban populations in the Lower Mainland and Sea-to-Sky communities, we simply cannot afford to lose access to Rubble Creek,” the letter, signed by Barry Janyk, executive director of the group, said. “Why? Garibaldi Lake has lower levels of avalanche hazard than most other trails in the region and closing this access point may push people into areas where the hazards are greater.”
On top of that, he pointed out, the two locations to access the park in the winter have their own problems. Diamond Head (the Elfin Lakes trail) has limited parking near Squamish while Singing Pass has only a handful of parking spots in the Whistler Village Day Lots.
“Anticipated backcountry pass restrictions imposed by Whistler/Blackcomb this winter due to COVID-19 will also limit access to the park,” the letter continued.
The FMCBC first started advocating for access to Rubble Creek—and other areas around Whistler—two years ago when the problem started getting worse.
“We came up with a list of access issues in the Sea to Sky corridor,” said Jay MacArthur, access and environment director for the Alpine Club of Canada Vancouver chapter and both the former director and president of FMCBC.
“We met with [MLA] Jordan Sturdy and Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations and we wrote letters. It’s a low priority. They just don’t have enough [of a] budget to deal with it in either ministry. Very little has been done in the last two years. It’s something we’re pushing for. There are more and more people wanting to use the outdoors.”
Other outdoor groups have taken on this issue as well. Last March, members of UBC’s Varsity Outdoor Club took matters into their own hands and dug out 10 to 15 parking spots.
“We want to show that this is really important in that we’re willing to work at it and find a solution,” said Haley Foladare, access coordinator for the VOC, at the time.
While BC Parks and the Ministry of Transportation (MOTI) didn’t offer a response to Pique by press time, last year MOTI told Pique parking was prohibited in the area because of concerns that the barrier at Garibaldi Lake could collapse, putting people in its path in peril.
“Parking along the road is prohibited … as well as to allow access by maintenance vehicles and to help ensure safety in a hazard zone,” the statement read.
In the opinion of Bryce Leigh, access and environment director of the Alpine Club of Canada Whistler section, the problem likely comes down to money.
“The challenge here, to be blunt, is BC Parks is brutally underfunded,” he said. “If the decision involves spending money, the easy decision is not to do that because [they] don’t have money in the first place. That makes it frustrating for us.”
The access issue at Rubble Creek speaks to the larger issue of diminishing backcountry access, particularly around Whistler, Leigh added.
It ranges from the gate at Brandywine Falls being closed through the fall and winter to a logging company taking out the bridge over Roe Creek to access the Brew Lake area and VOC hut to the deteriorating road conditions up to Brandywine Meadows, to name just a few.
“If access decreases, it’s going to be concentrated in one place,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Rubble Creek, the FMCBC also raised concerns that there could be safety issues if backcountry users return to their vehicles after a long day, perhaps in the dark, to discover they are no longer there.
“If someone comes off the trail cold and fatigued to find their vehicle gone, it is not the same as a person getting their vehicle towed from a no-parking zone in the city,” the letter read. “There is no easy way to get assistance.”
FMCBC doesn’t expect to get a response to its letter until after various ministers are officially appointed on Thursday, Nov. 26. However, members plan to forge ahead with more public outreach on the issue.
To stay up-to-date, visit mountainclubs.org/resources/blog.