Local Vibe

Hut, hut, hut!

Sometime this summer, those who love Whistler’s backcountry will have a chance to hike into the backcountry of Garibaldi Provincial Park and spend the night in a permanent facility that has been a decade in the making. The Kees and Claire Hut at Russet Lake is the first of three huts on the Spearhead Traverse. Construction of the Kees and Claire Hut, which replaces the old six-bed Russet Lake Hut, has been funded through donations and built with thousands of hours of volunteer labour using PassivHaus techniques, which is more expensive to build but results in a structure that is super energy efficient.

Jayson Faulkner of the Spearhead Huts Society said the hut will sleep 38 people and have cooking facilities, so all guests will have to bring is clothing, food and sleeping bags. One of the trickiest aspects of building was figuring out the directional orientation, a big factor during the snowy winter months. This past winter, with tarps over the partly completed building to keep the snow out, they learned that they got it right.

“We were either lucky or good, but early in the season we had a nice snow dump pile up on the north side of the hut and the orientation worked really well,” Faulkner said. “That’s important to have that right in terms of maintenance and wintertime use. If you get that wrong, you could wind up having to dig it out a lot and it would also affect wear and tear.”

Planning is underway on the Macbeth Hut. Construction on the 20-bed hut, which is to be built entirely through a $1.5 million donation from Brian and Andrea Hill of clothing retailer Aritzia, is expected to begin in summer 2020, Faulkner said. Once work on the Macbeth Hut is underway, the society will turn toward fundraising and design for the third Spearhead hut at Mount Pattison. For the core group of dedicated volunteers, it’s been a labour of love.

“It’s been almost 10 years, and … we’ve all stuck around because it’s an exciting vision and it’s going to be such a great thing for the backcountry community,” Faulkner said. For information, visit spearheadhuts.org.

Local Animal - Wolverine

The largest member of the weasel family, the small-but-ferocious wolverine is known for punching above its weight when threatened or scavenging for food. They will even scare bears off an animal kill and steal their food, according to Canadian Geographic. Wolverines have long been known to inhabit British Columbia’s South Coast region, but a three-year study being conducted by the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations aims to give land managers a better understanding of their numbers, home ranges and sensitivity to human presence.

Wolverines, which weigh between 7.5 and 18 kilograms (17 to 40 pounds), tend to shy away from human activity. Lead researcher Cliff Nietvelt said several wolverines were spotted on night cameras set up in the forests to capture footage of grizzly bears for a study led by his colleague, Steve Rochetta. That sparked curiosity about wolverines’ presence and, thanks to grants from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Program, the research began in 2018. “What we’re finding is that we have a more dense population of wolverines than we originally thought,” said Nietvelt, whose team has set up “run poles” at 71 locations and had, as of press time, placed GPS collars on three wolverines to track their movements.

While known for their ferocity, wolverines are quite curious and usually aren’t looking for a fight, Nietvelt said. After they’re trapped, “once you open the lid and look at them, they just look at you, but it’s only when you try to grab them and give them a shot that they get more aggressive.” Researchers know that their population is greater west of Highway 99 than in the Garibaldi Park area but know less about their habits and movements in relation to human activity.

“We could be facing a lot more pressure from recreational use, and we have to find ways to understand those impacts better,” he said. “It’s easy to count animals; it’s harder to understand why they are where they are and what’s happening with the populations. We’re getting a better handle on these questions, and with that information, we can make better management decisions.”

E-bike strategy in works

The burgeoning popularity of electric-assist bicycles, or “e-bikes,” has prompted Whistler resort officials and biking enthusiasts to formulate the best strategy for dealing with them on Whistler’s extensive recreational trail network. In late 2018, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) began seeking input from the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA), the Whistler Centre for Sustainability and the public on how best to address concerns about the impact of e-bikes on the environment and the user experience. The strategy, which could result in some areas being designated for non-electric, pedal-powered bikes only, was to be released in June 2019.

It’s not likely to be the final word, however. Although there are many opinions based on anecdotal experience, there is little empirical data about the true impacts, said WORCA President Dale Mikkelsen. According to the RMOW website, Class 1 e-bikes require the rider to pedal before the electric-assist motor kicks in, with a maximum speed of 32 kilometres per hour. Class 2 e-bikes don’t require the rider to pedal but have the same maximum speed. Class 3 e-bikes require pedalling but have a top speed of 45 km/h. The latter two are classified as motor vehicles by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and are allowed on forest service roads (same as gas-powered motorcycles) but not on recreational trails in B.C.

This spring, the Province released new guidelines for Class 1 e-bikes, but they only apply on the limited array of trails managed by Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. The RMOW’s strategy aims to use those rules as a starting point, providing clarity on the use of e-bikes and other electric-assist mobility devices on most Whistler-area trails — from the Valley Trail to lower- and higher-elevation singletrack paths. Whistler’s new strategy “could result in areas being dedicated to pedal-powered bikes,” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton. “The goal is to find ways to accommodate them on our trails while monitoring key impacts and concerns.”

Mikkelsen said WORCA favours educating riders about the multi-use nature of most Whistler trails and gathering data on the effects, rather than a heavy-handed approach, at least for the next couple of years. One of the key questions, he said, is: Will e-bike users add greatly to trail use because they’re able to ride farther with less effort, or will most simply ride the same trails in less time?

“WORCA is saying, ‘We don’t know enough to say that e-bikes should be allowed or not allowed,’” Mikkelsen said. “We need to learn more about how our trail systems operate generally — what is their capacity, and what are the maintenance requirements given that capacity. We don’t want to jump the gun, but we also want to be aware. We don’t want to be stuck in a reactive position a year or two from now, but rather an informed position.”

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