WORCA’s Trail Management History
Since 1989, the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) has been maintaining the extensive network of trails in and around the Whistler valley. Recognizing the need to maintain this valuable recreational resource, WORCA has developed a local trail advocacy program, raised funds and organized volunteer trail maintenance days; while also liaising with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and local land owners and developers to ensure the long term sustainability of Whistler’s trail network. Over WORCA’s 24 year history, mountain biking in the Sea to Sky corridor has seen exponential growth and the area has become a major destination and one of the leading tourism generators in the non-winter months; while WORCA has become a world leader in trail stewardship.
Early on, the RMOW recognized the significant economic value of mountain biking and the growing popularity of the activity. In doing so, it became a key proponent of the sport, with annual support of WORCA through a Community Enrichment Program grant; in addition to expanding its own Municipal Parks and Trails program to include municipally funded and maintained mountain biking opportunities. Ongoing teamwork between WORCA and the RMOW has been critical to the development of a renowned trail network that has been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors, and will continue to grow as a valuable recreational resource thanks to adherence to sustainable trail maintenance and design. Progressive trail building techniques, aimed at mitigating common trail issues, are employed to maximize durability and user safety. Properly constructed trails require relatively little maintenance over the long term.
WORCA too has progressed since its inception in 1989, and added to its volunteer maintenance program by obtaining funding in addition to membership fees and revenue from toonie rides. A seasonal, full time trail builder has been hired for the past 13 years to maintain and continually improve the network of trails in and around the Whistler valley. During the early days, our efforts were focused on the trails closest to the Village and some known classics such as River Runs Through It and the Emerald Forest as traffic increased. The sport grew rapidly, with Whistler Blackcomb opening its Bike Park in 1998; and Whistler’s own local builders also creating new trails almost every year. Neighboring communities also recognized the community value and increasing popularity of mountain biking and developed their own trail networks.
In 2005, the first draft of the RMOW Cycling Master Plan was released for public input. In it, all known trails were mapped, trail development areas established, and conflict zones with private land identified. Some trails located on RMOW land were adopted by the Municipal Parks department which led to the development of multi-use trail systems as can be currently found in Lost Lake Park. These high volume networks provide an excellent showcase for the community and visitor benefits of a well-designed trail system that sees tens of thousands of hikers, runners, and bikers per year with low environmental impact, and minimal user conflict.
Outside of RMOW Parks, WORCA focused on the rest of the extensive trail network on the Crown land in the valley. Volunteers and trail builders worked through the network systemically with a focus on the more popular trails and problem areas with poorly designed trails. The trails have seen extensive work over the past decades, and are now regarded as some of the better maintained in the world.
As mountain biking continued to grow, businesses, recognizing a significant growth industry, began to depend solely or substantially on the mountain bike market for summer business. Mountain bike visits now outnumber golf visits as the primary summer visitor attractant; trail use has become a true three season sport in the valley, and a key to our community’s long term success.
With cycling’s newfound role as a large and significant part of Whistler’s economy, WORCA established a No Net Loss Policy for trails to protect this valuable resource from new development encroaching on key trails around the valley. With the help of the RMOW, WORCA has worked with land owners and land managers to secure right of ways or re-route valuable trails, maintaining the cohesiveness of the network. In most instances the developers offered to fund the re-routing of trails and/or facilitate access to trail heads. The value of well built multi-use trails was recognized by developers as a key amenity for prospective home buyers, allowing developers to promote easy and safe access to the surrounding trails to facilitate their activity of choice.
While our unique, rugged Pacific Northwest landscape makes for challenging trail construction, Whistler’s trail builders have learned the techniques necessary to build with rock, root, wood and up to 40cm of organics. Whistler’s style of trail construction has always been more technical, thus average riding speed is slower than mountain bike trails in other, more arid areas due to challenging features such as bridges, rocks, roots and other obstacles.
In 2006 Whistler hosted the International Mountain Bike Association’s (IMBA) annual conference, during which WORCA representatives played host and tour guide to attendees and showcased our model of adopting the Whistler and IMBA trail standards and adapted them to better suite our local environment and building constraints. The last decade has seen rapid and continual trail improvement, with hundreds of volunteers working hard to maintain one of the best trail systems in the world.
WORCA has come a long way over its nearly 25 year history. With careful planning and teamwork between local governments, community groups and land stakeholders, we have established and managed a legendary trail network that has become an integral part of our local economy and more important, our identity. WORCA looks forward to the opportunity to sit down with BC Parks and look for opportunities to help improve the trail network in the Spearhead area, providing knowledge and experience gained through 20 years of progressive trail maintenance and management; and forming a new partnership with the goal of maintaining and developing sustainable and safe trail resources for both hikers and mountain bikers for years to come.