Editor’s NOTE: Taken from the special print issue of the Squamish Reporter charting the town’s future, this article by Jeff Cooke presents his vision on Outdoor Recreation
Outdoor Recreation is about renewal. It rejuvenates, re-energizes, builds self-esteem, and reduces stress. In a world where things get busier, more crowded, more stressful, getting outside and being active provides physical and mental health benefits.
My wife Barb and I moved our family to Squamish seven years ago. Maybe it is because I grew up in the urban sprawl of Toronto that I cherish what we have here. Maybe it is because I used to have to drive 30 minutes to get to a forest to go for a trail run that I am so grateful that I can now be on a trail in a spectacular forest within 30 seconds of walking out my front door.
Although people have been coming to Squamish for a long time to recreate, outdoor recreation in Squamish is evolving. For example, mountain bike technology advances have allowed for more challenging trails. Our dedicated volunteer trail builders have created a world class network. Kiteboards have superseded windsurfers on our waterfront.
The gondola has opened up new sightseeing and alpine hiking opportunities. The legacy of the 2010 Olympics has presented more opportunities for Nordic skiing. Improvements to the Sea to Sky Highway have made it safer and quicker for visitors to come to our playground. Our recreation infrastructure has gotten better owing largely to the commitment of the many passionate volunteer organisations.
Today, with a surge in population growth and a surge in tourist visits using our infrastructure, it is a good time to consider what the future holds. What will outdoor recreation in Squamish look like 20 years from now? To me this is less of a prediction and more of a choice. It is like asking a high school graduate what their career path will be. The outcome really depends on what they do. It depends on the actions they take. What I present below is one possible outcome that reflects a community I would love to be a part of.
Squamish’s natural recreation resources (forests, rivers, mountains, ocean, wind) are some of our greatest strengths and certainly our most unique attributes. They set us apart from 99.99% of other communities in North America. We need to build on this strength. Here’s what that might look like:
In 20 years, outdoor recreation is integrated in our culture. It is part of our community’s DNA. Our new downtown community gathering place will not be like every other community. It will have a climbing wall and a bicycle pump track, and paddle sports water access. People will have a reason to hang there whether they are being active or just enjoying watching their kids.
In 20 years, outdoor recreation is integrated into our land planning. We have made intelligent land management decisions that integrate housing with green spaces and mature forests. Neighbourhoods are built around trails, rock climbing walls, parks and rivers. Every neighbourhood has easy access to trails and nature preserves that our kids can play in without needing to go far from home. We are the only community with a protected municipal rock climbing and mountain bike trail reserve.
We have an amazing and easily accessible interpretive trail through the estuary and eagle viewing facilities on the river that are worthy of these majestic birds. Our oceanfront is developed and we have a waterfront park that is a launching pad for our water and wind sports.
In 20 years, we will still be working together to get things done. Volunteer groups, as they do today, will drive the management of the recreation assets. Business and volunteer groups continue to work closely together to preserve and protect these assets and generate the funding that can sustain this recreation infrastructure. As a community we realize we all benefit when we work together to reach a balance of job creation and natural recreation asset building.
We do not put the onus on the District of Squamish to do it all, but recognize their role as a partner is to set direction, facilitate and support the volunteer groups to get the necessary work done in the most efficient manner possible.
In 20 years, our schools will integrate outdoor recreation education into the curriculum. One day a week will be spent outside. Our kids know value of our natural environment, conservation, and stewardship that give us them the recreation opportunities they enjoy.
In 20 years, our recreation assets generate increased economic return and sustainability. One such opportunity is for Squamish to become renowned as the destination for outdoor recreation skill development. An industry will emerge built around coaching and training academies for sports such as mountain biking, rock climbing, mountaineering, Nordic skiing, sailing and other windsports. (Some of this is already in progress). With the expansion of this industry comes more investment back into the recreation infrastructure.
Our recreation amenities will have led to more growth in the recreation equipment design and production industry. Our recreation-based tourism will continue to flourish. As cities become more crowded, a recreational oasis like Squamish will attract more visitors.
Photo: JOSH MCCULLOCH /TOURISM SQUAMISH