After years of looking around for the perfect location for British Columbia’s second sightseeing gondola, Jayson Faulkner found a near perfect spot in the ridges above the Fraser Valley just east of Chilliwack.
And Faulkner’s first move was to knock on the door of the Cheam First Nation.
“I told them ‘I have this idea. If you like it then I want you on board. If not, I’ll leave and you’ll never see me again.’”
Cheam chief at the time, Ernie Crey, liked it. Current Cheam leadership similarly likes the project and they are on board as equity partners.
But as the team slowly moved forward ticking the boxes government required them to, they were blindsided by an ambitious ski resort proposal – the Bridal Veil Mountain Resort (BVMR) – in an area that overlaps where the gondola is planned.
Now they are in what Faulkner describes as a “beauty contest” being judged by the provincial government.
But it’s an apples and oranges comparison. The Cascade Skyline gondola has been in the works for five years. It not only has the involvement of the local First Nation who have used the territory for thousands of years, but Cascade Skyline has the support of the two local MLAs, MP Mark Strahl, the Fraser Valley Regional District, the mayors of Chilliwack and the District of Kent, Tourism Chilliwack, CEPCO and on and on.
“This ‘beauty contest’ has been a really frustrating process we were put into by the province and frankly it is very hard to understand what their reasons are,” Faulkner told The Progress. “Bigger is definitely not better.”
The Cascade Skyline project would lift guests from the base at Bridal Falls Golf Course 1,250 metres up to the ridges on the mountains above. From there, guests will have a variety of walking and hiking options from difficult to moderate to wheelchair accessible. The most ambitious could wander widely into the mountains while others could just enjoy the ride up and down.
“The terrain provides exceptional opportunities for non-motorized activities including walking, hiking, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, paragliding, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing,” Faulkner says.
Faulkner has a long history in the B.C. recreation industry working at Whistler for years and as one of those involved in the only existing sightseeing gondola in B.C., the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish.
A Sto:lo cultural interpretive centre at the base is planned to provide cultural education about the Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe Society and Popkum band.
”As an equity owner and partner in this project, we believe this project will bring long-term and sustainable benefits not only to our community and membership but also to the surrounding community in S’ólh Téméxw,” according to Cheam First Nation Chief Andrew Victor.
Faulker said that with Cheam as fully invested partners, and hopefully with other Sto:lo members, there will be an opportunity to restore and renew the traditional and cultural uses of this area where they were forced out or where logging and motorized recreational use diminished their access.
“It has been a founding principle of our project, that we respect the lands upon which it is being built and if we do it right, we could be a new and unique model that actually has a net improvement on the lands upon which it would sit,” Faulkner said.
“Our goal as an eco-tourism, cultural tourism project, is to restore and renew the badly impacted lands that comprise the Chipmunk Creek drainage from decades of heavily clearcut logging activity and the severe impacts from unregulated motorized use.”
It was the Cheam that reached out to the media with “shock” when they learned of the BVMR project.
Victor said the environmental footprint of the Cascade Skyline Gondola Project would be minuscule compared to a ski resort requiring roads to access villages, land to build multiple ski lifts and runs, and high water use to accommodate snowmaking machinery.
And while the Cascade Skyline gondola project has the support of all levels of government and the support of Chilliwack River Valley residents and other outdoor clubs, some have criticized the BVMR team for being outsiders not even familiar with the community.
During an online information meeting on May 19, for example, the leaders of the project were asked what if any impact the ski resort would have on the Chilliwack River Valley.
“I’m not sure where the Chilliwack River Valley exactly is,” BVMR co-founder Robert Wilson said before deferring to Whistler-based consultant Brent Harley who is working on the project.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know the definition of the Chilliwack River Valley,” Harley said.
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