Carrying Capacity Study Needed for the Chief

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: May 17, 2014

As spring gives way to summer, a familiar spectacle will unfold in Squamish: Droves of locals and tourists will make a beeline for our famed icon, Squamish Chief.

Last summer, BC Parks counted as many as 3,000 visitors in one day, although the complete numbers for the entire summer weren’t available. This summer, with another attraction close by, more visitors will be exposed to Chief.   

What kind of impact do the visitors have on the Chief? Should there be unfettered access to the Chief and other parks, even if the visitors double? Do we need more signage so people can enjoy the hike safely?

These and many more questions like these were posed six years ago by Kevin McLane, local author of a Squamish history book and two climbing guides.

In 2008, District of Squamish, BC Parks, and the highway improvement project commissioned him to write a climbing strategy report. His report made several recommendations to the district and the public parks, outlining a program of action and investment.

The report seems to have met the same fate as many others district reports.

With a brand new highway and a tourist attraction brining more people to the Chief, McLane hopes district and BC Parks will now take the report off the shelves and reconsiders implementing some recommendations.

And they may as well start with a Carrying Capacity Assessment for Chief and other provincial and local parks.

It’s about what kind of visitor experience we want for visitors and how to balance it with any environmental impact, McLane says.

“It will allow us to absorb the certainty of high future growth,” McLane said.

The six-year old report also called for a better trail signage, including pointing climbers to less travelled crags and away from the popular and heavily used areas.

“The sigss that we have right now are abysmal. We need solid, interesting signs for climbers and hikers,” he said.

Interpretive programs on geological, forest ecology and regional history, terrain hazard strategy, and increase ranger presence during the busy months were some other suggestions that haven’t been implemented.

Lack of funding and staffing is a challenge, but provincial funding helped improve the backside trail in the last few years, said parks supervisor Katy Chambers.

“We have delineated the trails, diverted water and limbed trees to make it safe,” she said.

With 40 per cent of Search and Rescue calls coming from the Chief, she agreed that it can get crowded in the summer. But it’s less about the number and more about the type of people in the crowd, she added.

“You could have 10 people who are irresponsible and 1,000 who are not,” she said.