Mt. Mac recreation area needs protection

Mt. Mac recreation area needs protection Whitehorse is blessed with an abundance of green spaces, but surely one of the standouts is the Mt. McIntyre trail network Ð more than 75 kilometres of trails in a wilderness setting, expertly designed and groome

Whitehorse is blessed with an abundance of green spaces, but surely one of the standouts is the Mt. McIntyre trail network Ð more than 75 kilometres of trails in a wilderness setting, expertly designed and groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter and used by mountain bikers, runners, orienteerers, hikers and others during the rest of the year for healthy outdoor exercise, training and competition. There are options for all ages and abilities.

Countless volunteer hours and in-kind donations from local businesses have been used for improving and maintaining the trails.

A huge amount of money from Lotteries, Community Development Fund and city rec grants has been spent to develop the trails and facilities at Mt. Mac.

That investment over the last 30 years has resulted in more than 1,300 city residents buying season passes for the ski trails last year, and at least 2,000 day passes.

School groups from most Whitehorse schools also used the trails for $1 per visit.

The ski club hosts numerous races and events on the Mt. Mac trails. The racing trails were designed to meet national and international standards. In March 2010, the club will host the National XC Ski Championships, a weeklong event expected to generate up to $380,000 in financial benefits to the city and territory.

The Mt. Mac trails are used year-round. They are home to the annual 24 Hours of Light Mountain Bike Festival, and a new skills park for mountain bikes that is already popular with younger riders. The new disc-golf course premiered this year to great reviews. The Yukon Orienteering Association holds its junior training on the Mt. Mac trails.

The Mt. Mac Recreation Centre and the Canada Games Centre, along with the trails, are part of a centrally located recreation node accessible via regular bus service. This is unique in Canada and will be featured in a national magazine this winter.

Most of the trails are on land owned by the Yukon government, and the ski club has a licence of occupation to use and maintain them. The land is designated by the Official Community Plan as “Outdoor Recreation” which is the strongest protection that the OCP provides. But that can be changed at any time by city council. As Whitehorse grows, there is more pressure to develop available land.

About 7 per cent of the trail system is on privately owned land. The club recently signed a lease agreement with ATCO that gives us permission to use their land for at least the next five years. A small portion of ATCO land was sold to Raven’s Ridge Developments for the new subdivision, but both companies worked with the ski club to reroute the 10K in a way that ensured the best possible outcome.

Most of the trail system is staked with mineral claims. There has been mining and exploration on and around the trail network since it was developed, mainly because it happens to be sitting very close to the Copper Belt.

In fact, Copper Trail was used as an exploration trail many years ago. And the World Cup 10K was developed by local mining contractors, such as Coyne and Sons.

In spite of this history the club’s position is that city land use and needs have changed over the years. Now it makes sense that land that has been designated as recreational, residential or institutional should be removed from mineral staking.

The city could ask the territorial government to withdraw these lands from disposition as well as from subsurface mineral exploration and development.

I’m sure that the city and territorial governments and the ski club, along with private landowners and exploration companies can continue to work together to preserve this world class trail system.

Regardless of who is voted in on Thursday, the club will work in co-operation with the mayor, council and city planners to ensure the wisest use of the land.

Mike Gladish, manager, Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club