Squamish and Parkland Debate

I’ve heard that there might be a big change coming to Squamish, BC. Many, including most residents seem to embrace it, yet it’s a choice that ought to involve many considerations than the local view.

I can imagine myself bringing my family back to there in the near future, not quite sure I like the change. We’d drive up the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver probably after enjoying Lord Stanley’s Park. Then, just before the main attraction, we’d show Wunderkind Shannon Falls. She might get bored, or tired, and we’d move on.

Finally, at last, we’d take-in the Stawamus Chief. Or would we? The view from the Highway alone is stunning. On one side earth rises sharply to the crisp blue air. The other dips into choppy water flowing in the Straits of Georgia.
All of it accented by my favorite color in the various sharp shapes and sizes that God makes evergreens.

Between the Falls and the great cliff, we might stop, pay CA$29 to ride up the ridge to Mount Habrich. You see, while more approvals are required, the District of Squamish Council in British Colombia has approved the plan to build a gondola within the park. Apparently, the Squamish Council didn’t think its attractions were enough or lucrative enough that they approved an enclosed ski lift for sight seeing the sound.

It’s better than what was proposed in 2004, which would have put the gondola’s path right atop and along the Stawamus Chief cliff. The outcry was significant but in 2011 the Sea-to-Sky Gondola reintroduced the idea, but this time for the neighboring ridge. The Squamish residents seem to tolerate the idea a little more with the added knowledge that the gondola’s path would be over an area “impacted” by logging.

I know that my wife and daughter would enjoy the ride to the top; it would be a chance to see the view from on high without a long, uphill hike or steep climb with dad interrupted by long breaks for water and photos. For the gondola alternative, the effort involved is significantly low and wearing flip flops right out of the car and through the turnstiles would be acceptable — I can see the appeal. It would also separate the hardcore outdoors types from the flip flip tourists. But if the gondola wasn’t there, I wouldn’t miss it. Besides, if the land was “impacted” by logging, why couldn’t it be allowed to be wild once again? If it were let be, it would come back, perhaps different, but the land would grow as it wishes, even if it’s just grasses and lichen.

The Squamish Council’s decision was not the final approval, however. It now turns to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District of British Colombia Parks and the provincial government. The developer hopes to build starting in September 2012, but the choice remaining is worrisome: In order for the gondola to receive final approval, the land’s designation must be downgraded from park land to protected land. The permanence of such designations are always subject to change by policymakers, however, it is far easier to reverse course on such choices when there is not infrastructure in place, such as a gondola or ski jump (the Adirondacks in New York comes to mind).

But it can also be likened to the proposal to drill in Alaska. Some polls claim that a majority of Alaskan residents support drilling to help with employment. However, many Americans — greater than the population of Alaskan residents — consider the land a natural treasure of wild places.   The decision needed for approval involves political discussions and policy decisions that involve more than just the local residents. Local residents aren’t the only people that have a stake, and in the case of the Squamish Gondola, BC Parks and the province — not to mention the people of British Colombia and even others like me — may value the ridge line path very differently.

The gondola could bring revenue to Squamish, allow those visitors and locals who wouldn’t hike or climb to the top for the view to ride high, and separate the tourist-scoffing from the tourists. But it actually does little else for the land itself. While the area is hardly true wilderness, the area around Shannon Falls and the Chief is often more wild than many people experience. It ought to stay untamed and a little inconvenient.

That being said, I take comfort that if the gondola was built, the Stawamus Chief would still be one of the largest walls in the world and that no gondola reached its top to create a Clingman’s Dome environment in what ought to be a magic moment of topping out. So things could be worse, yet they could be better too.

Thanks for dropping by again, as always. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ’em!

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