Yurt village planned for Squamish backcountry

Jennifer Thuncher - Squamish Chief

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If things go according to plan, there may soon be a year-round yurt village for recreationalists above the Sea to Sky Gondola, on the western flank of Skyline Ridge.

The Sea to Sky Adventure Company has applied to the provincial government to build backcountry accommodations for adventure tourists on Crown land.

The plan includes a 30-metre diameter “Tea” yurt, six year-round sleeping yurts and a number of seasonal tent platforms. Along with the yurts and safari tents, an outdoor hot tub and sauna heated by nearby wood is planned.

Access to and from the 4.4 ha site would be by foot for most guests and by helicopter or ATV for clients with disabilities.

The site could utilize existing forest service roads, according to the map provided in the application, and composting toilets will be installed.

“The actual design of the backcountry yurt lodge was done to ensure minimal disruption to the natural environment – no large foundations are needed – allow a structure to stand up to rain and snow, and to create a unique experience for the guest,” said the owner of Sea to Sky Adventure Company, Jeff Levine.

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Both the yurts and safari tents will be sited in areas to minimize visual impacts, he added.

A public comment period on the proposal is open until Nov. 4.

The location is within the company’s existing Commercial Recreation Land Tenure issued by the province.

This area was the site of a former clear cut and is close to existing forest service roads, said Levine.

He said the idea for the yurt village came about out of necessity for the company’s other tourist offerings.

Levine and his wife Carmen started the company in 2010 with bike rentals, when tourism in Squamish was in the development stages.

“As the years passed, we added more products and experiences to our offerings,” Levine said.

In addition to bike and watercraft rentals, the company now offers guided hiking, biking and watercraft tours.

While leading these tours, they found an increasing lack of accommodation for overnight backcountry visitors.

“With the popularity of Squamish for adventure seekers, this has put additional strain on the available backcountry camping locations that we could use for our multi-day hiking tours. On busy weekends, Garibaldi Park’s Garibaldi Lake area is closed off due to the number of hikers,” Levine told The Chief.

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Not everyone is thrilled by the plan.

“While we support new entrants in the adventure tourism field here in Squamish, we have concerns with this particular tenure application,” the Sea to Sky Gondola’s Kirby Brown told The Chief on Monday. “It currently conflicts with a tenure application of our own, laying a overnight facility on top of a location we intend to place a warming hut for day users. Given the nature of the business proposed, it will bring four-wheel vehicle traffic to a portion of Shannon Basin that is currently free of such use.”

Eric Dumerac, owner and operator of Mountain Skills Academy and Adventures, who is one of the most active users of tenure in the area, said the yurt village is not in the spirit in which the community intends to use the land for.

“If any development is to occur, it needs to be for the benefit of the general public.”

Dumerac said.

Yurts that can accommodate only a select few, with proposed mechanized and environmental impact, “is a very poor choice of a business proposition in this area,” he said.

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A public campground would be much more useful and acceptable, Demerac added.

As the decision falls under the provincial Land Act, government staff will consider environmental, cultural and safety impacts, as well as comments from First Nations and local government, a government spokesperson told The Chief.

If the proposal moves forward, permits are expected from the provincial government in January. Other permits through SLRD and other provincial agencies are also required.

Construction would begin in the spring of 2018, Levine said.

To access the application go to arfd.gov.bc.ca/ and search for file #2411956.

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