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Petition calls for ban on tours, rental boats in popular Whistler river

A surge in visitors to one of Whistler‘s premiere summer attractions has prompted a petition to ban commercial activity on the River of Golden Dreams.

A popular destination for paddlers and floaters alike, the slow-moving waterway connects Alta and Green lakes, offering visitors a slice of natural wetlands with spectacular mountain views.

But in recent years, interest in accessing the river has surged.

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According to the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the number of hourly visitors to the waterway have more than doubled since 2015, prompting concerns about trash and sensitive fish habitat.

“There is absolutely no way the ecosystem can endure this traffic down the fragile river bed,” reads the petition launched by Whistler resident Lawrence Keith.

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“Stopping the commercial enterprise, which is the obvious solution, has not even been considered as an option.”

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In the three weeks since its launch, 860 people have signed the petition.

Spencer Wight, vice-president of outdoor recreation company Backroads Whistler said there is no question traffic on the river has increased in recent years.

Wight’s company leads guided tours down the river and also rents boats and paddleboards to people who want to explore it on their own.

“It’s not a very wide river, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for passing one way or another. And a lot of the floaty toys that come down … raft up and they kind of span the width of the river,” he said.

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“That kind of clogged space sort of changes the way people paddle the river and experience it.”

But Wight challenged the assertion that commercial traffic was behind damage to the river.

Individuals floating the river on their own are responsible for the beer cans and other trash left behind, he said, while commercial operators end up doing the cleanup.

“I’d say the commercial operators are the stewards of the river are the ones really stepping and making sure it stays the way it always has been,” he said.

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“What I would like to see personally is a bit more control on the public use of it and just making sure that the people using it know what is expected, and how the people of this town want to see that river stay.”

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The municipality itself said a count of peak traffic on the river found about 70 per cent of watercraft were being used by the public, rather than commercial operators.

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Increased use by non-commercial members of the public have resulted in an increase in trash, an increase in illegal boating with open liquor containers, and cases of users exiting their boats and scraping the streambed.

“I think our staff are watching and the community is watching how many people are travelling the river everyday,” acting Mayor Jen Ford told Global News, adding commercial operators have a stake in protecting the waterway.

“They see the river everyday, they’re checking the water levels.”

In June, a report to Whistler’s municipal council proposed enhancements to the waterway, which received $40,000 in funding for 2022. A further $150,000 was proposed for additional work in 2023.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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