Some weeks ago I received a letter, and due to my overtaxed schedule, I admit, it sat unopened for far too long. This week I had the chance to read the letter, or more appropriately described, the essay, that was written to me. It was written in perfect cursive handwriting and was titled, dated, and signed, harkening the formality of times past, in stark contrast to our 140 character world. The letter demanded my attention, not because of the content or length, but because of the passion and the thought that went into filling the nine pages that were scribed.
The subject was of our mountains, of this gentleman’s love for them, and of his concern for the future. He was versed in the history of Chilliwack and its surroundings, and as he began to unravel the story of our local backcountry I could not help but feel moved by his words.
His vision is simple. He wishes for a greater level of protection for some of our most prized and accessible backcountry areas. He states that Chilliwack is home to old growth tree stands that rival the grandeur of the famed Cathedral grove on Vancouver Island in both height and beauty. We have pristine alpine areas within a few kilometers of our downtown that far surpass the beauty of some Vancouver destinations that have won the hearts and support of their local communities. We have a diversity of wild country that few places in the world can rival in such a compact geographic footprint.
As I thought about what this man had said I was puzzled; we have so much right here in our surrounding environment and yet we have failed to see it solely as an asset, but also as an obstacle to growth. As any politician in the Chilliwack area can surely attest, the balancing act of environmental and industrial interests is a constant source of angst. The classic growth model sometimes seems to view environmental review not as a true consideration, but rather as a hoop to jump through to silence the opposition.
I believe we have simply had too narrow of a view of what our local economy looks like. We believe that if a logging company, a mine, or an Independent Power Project speaks of their willingness to operate in our area, give us jobs, improve our roads and infrastructure and generate prosperity, that this should always hold the trump card above other interests. This kind of development is certainly essential; otherwise who will foot our bills… right?
I have worked in the forestry industry for many years, and it is precisely because of this dual perspective, which I hold, that I see another way. We can all recognize the growth that is happening in the Fraser Valley, and the City of Chilliwack seems primed to take advantage of this boom and offer a place to call home for perhaps tens of thousands more people in the coming decades.
It is precisely due to these trends that I look at Chilliwack in a different way than some. I see a way that we can preserve and protect our backcountry and benefit economically from it. We have an asset that few other municipalities in the province have, and it begs us to use it appropriately. If we were to move towards long-term infrastructure investment that allowed access to our wild places, we could become the playground of the Fraser Valley. The easy example of Whistler and Squamish comes to mind. I do not believe that they have come to be the kinds of places that they are solely due to their natural assets. I have played in those mountains, rivers and lakes and I believe that Chilliwack is easily their equal. The Sea to Sky region has simply more effectively promoted what they have, and provided a great experience for people once they arrive. We could so easily do the same. As the Valley grows, as congestion increases and tolls are placed on our access to the North Shore, can we not see that the region is ready for an alternative playground? I believe that it is possible for us to build our community to be the destination for all residents from this side of the Port Mann Bridge.
Can our continued shift towards a tourism based economy dovetail with our resources sector? Certainly it can, however I believe that we must have both interests equally represented at the planning level of our community. We could allow for timber harvesting in a way that still preserves old growth tree havens, sight line corridors along road systems, and sensitive alpine environments.
The gentleman who took the time to express his passion to me is now 82 years old and his ability to promote this cause is fading. I felt as though he was handing the next generation the torch as he left me with these words:
“I skied the Elk-Thurston trail in deep snow on March 23rd, 1963 and it was a great experience. A large male deer stood atop the Elk Mountain Dome, and minutes later I stood where he had been, the clouds moving slowly-just 12ft above me, spitting snow. That’s the moment I thought we must get our families into our mountains to experience this great winter beauty.”
I owe a thank you to this man, as he has reinvigorated my passion and love for our backcountry. His dedication to writing this letter was a demonstration of how important our natural lands asset is and the responsibility to be wise stewards of it.
“A country is great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit in.” – Greek Proverb
– Sam Waddington – Owner of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors: Equipping you for Rock, Water, Snow, Sand, Wind and anything else the Outdoors can throw at you!