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Sale of Squamish climbers' haven up for discussion

The District of Squamish is seeking to buy land in the Smoke Bluffs from the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C., which promises it will consult climbers before a decision is made.

Some advocates say the future of recreation in the Smoke Bluffs may become uncertain if the District winds up buying several parcels of land in the area owned by an outdoor association.

The District of Squamish and the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. have confirmed with The Chief they are discussing the possibility of the municipality acquiring the lands.

Currently, several parcels in the Bluffs are owned by the federation.

They were bought in the 1980s by the club to ward off developers and have been held by the association ever since, with the goal of ensuring it will always remain accessible to climbers and other recreationalists.

At the time, multiple outdoor organizations and even MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) pitched in to pool the money necessary for the federation to make that purchase.

On Feb. 5, the federation's executive director, Barry Janyk, told The Chief it is in discussions with the District of Squamish regarding those lands.

"The FMCBC has been approached by the District of Squamish concerning the Smoke Bluff properties owned by the FMCBC," wrote Janyk in an email.

"Our board has set up an ad-hoc committee to examine the DOS proposal and make recommendations to the board for its consideration. The committee has had preliminary meetings and has developed a consultation plan to discuss the issues with the climbing community.  An invitation will be sent out in the next few days to FMCBC member clubs."

The District of Squamish has also confirmed to The Chief it is attempting to buy the lands from the federation.

"The District of Squamish is pursuing the acquisition of the FMC lands as part of a larger program currently underway by the District to preserve and enhance the climbing and recreational activities at Smoke Bluffs Park for generations to come," wrote a District spokesperson in an emailed statement.

"The acquisition of these lands was identified in the Smoke Bluffs Park Management Plan (2018) with the endorsement of the Smoke Bluffs Park Committee. Efforts to advance these initiatives are currently underway. The District has been in discussions with FMC;  both parties recognize the value of these lands and are committed to a transfer process that provides FMC and its members with confidence that the future interests of the climbing and recreation community will be enhanced through a future park dedication bylaw."

While the federation has not said it will sell the lands, the prospect of those parcels changing hands has raised concerns for some in the outdoor community.

Chris Ludwig, president of the B.C. Mountaineering Club, told The Chief he's worried a land transfer will put an end to guaranteed access for climbers and other recreationalists.

The ultimate concern is that further down the line, the municipality might either sell the lands to a developer, impose bylaws restricting access, or both.

Ludwig said this won't necessarily happen in the immediate future, but years or even decades down the line as the political climate changes, politicians may become more amicable to selling off land for development.

"Governments change and the legal precedents set [show] that just because something is a municipal park [with] covenants doesn't mean the District can't sell it off…. This will be a loss of protections," said Ludwig in an interview.

That doesn't necessarily mean those things will happen, he said, but it now creates a vulnerability for it to occur.

"It's also a loss of leverage too, so, for instance, if there is a reduction of access or climbers access in the future…if it's by the District, then [recreationalists will have] lost the ability to leverage anything," Ludwig continued. 

"Basically, we would no longer have a say."

For its part, Janyk told The Chief the federation would be seeking input from recreationalists.

"I can assure you that no decisions have been made — and none will be made — until consultations with the climbing community are completed and the input is assessed," he said.

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