A proposed gondola above Bridal Falls could enhance recreation opportunities in the eastern Fraser Valley, but could it destroy the area's rugged charm?
From the Vancouver Sun:
Towering 2,000 metres above Chilliwack, Mount Cheam is a local landmark.
The “mother mountain” to the Sto:lo peoples and the namesake of more than one Chilliwack business, the peak is pristine, but difficult to access. Hikers must first drive toward Chilliwack Lake before navigating a crumbling logging road to reach the alpine.
That could change.
A company called Bridal Falls Gondola Corp. has applied to study the feasibility of building a gondola above Bridal Falls, potentially opening up the mountains around Cheam to more people. The director of the company is listed as Jayson Faulkner, a founding partner of the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish.
“It’s potentially a pretty significant project that could result in opportunities for the whole region,” said Chilliwack Coun. Jason Lum, chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District, which has jurisdiction over the area.
In an application for a two-year licence to access and study a 4,200-hectare area stretching from Bridal Falls to Mount Cheam to Elk Mountain, the company proposes to conduct “environmental, geotechnical and engineering studies (including traffic studies)” to determine the feasibility of a gondola. “No changes or alterations to the landscape will be made during this first phase,” according to the application.
If the company decides to proceed with the project, another application would need to be submitted, at which point evaluation, consultation and public input would continue. The footprint for the second application would be smaller, “as it would cover only the areas necessary for the gondola and associated structures and buildings.”
Lum said the company has approached local government, including the area’s First Nations, to start discussions about the gondola, but the proposal is still in the early stages.
“The mountains here are very near and dear to people’s hearts, so it’s good to start consultation early,” he said.
While recreation opportunities in the Chilliwack mountains are less sophisticated than those in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor, they are used by a growing community of hikers, mountain bikers, paragliders and hunters. Many areas are only accessible by bumpy logging roads or long, steep trails, which guarantees they won’t be busy, despite boasting stunning views of the valley floor, thousands of metres below.
In online forums dedicated to hiking and mountaineering, most posters seemed to be taking a “wait-and-see” approach, although some worried gondola traffic could destroy the area’s rugged charm.
“It comes down to how the company plans to treat the land and what’s around it,” said Tyler Gillies, president of the West Coast Soaring Club. The paragliding club holds two tenures for jump sites near the proposed study area. “We support allowing more access to the backcountry, as long as it doesn’t affect our ability to fly.”
Chilliwack Coun. Sam Waddington, the owner of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors store, was taking a similar view.
“I think the mountains around Chilliwack are some of the most beautiful in our province,” said the mayoral candidate. “When I get up there, I’m astounded by the view. It’s life-changing and perspective-giving, and I wish everyone could experience it.”
Viewed through the “lens” of the successful Sea to Sky Gondola project, Waddington said he was hopeful the project could balance increased backcountry traffic with preservation of the natural environment.
“On the Sea to Sky Gondola, the traffic is massive, but the ecological impact is actually quite minimal,” he said. “We need to look at the best ways to manage our natural places. Let’s foster people’s desire to access these areas, but let’s build them in such a way that they can handle it.”
B.C. Mountaineering Club director Paul Kubik agreed, pointing out that the Sea to Sky Gondola has been a beneficial project for many different groups, including hikers. “They’re good backcountry citizens, I think.”
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Forests said staff will evaluate feedback received from the company’s application before making a decision. Public feedback is being accepted until Oct. 5, 2018, at arfd.gov.bc.ca.