One of the last and most critical links in the Spirit Trail across the North Shore waterfront is now open to the public.
As of Friday morning, cyclists and pedestrians began crossing through the Mosquito Creek Marina on Squamish Nation land on a trail segment that slips beneath sea level and a 50-tonne gantry crane.
With the connection now open, people travelling the trail between Lower Lonsdale and the Harbourside area will be able to avoid a 2.3-kilometre detour around the community of Eslhá7an, including a steep hill on Forbes Avenue and heavy traffic on Third Street.
“I think the Spirit Trail will be as or more popular than the Stanley Park seawall. It’s that popular. It’s going to be a game changer,” said Mayor Darrell Mussatto. “I think it’s a vital part of the legacy of giving people alternatives to using their car.”
Seeing the trail through to completion has been one of Mussatto’s highest priorities in office but credit for the connection belongs to the Squamish Nation for opening up their land, he said.
“I think the council they have now is showing great leadership in allowing it to go through and finishing it off. Without a doubt, the No. 1 thing is the amazing Squamish Nation,” he said.
Squamish Nation council is also celebrating the opening.
“It’s exciting for the Squamish Nation to welcome everyone to our community and to work on this with the City of North Vancouver to connect two really important parts of the Spirit Trail. We feel really happy about it,” said Khelsilem, Squamish Nation council spokesman. “We really want to work in partnership with our neighbouring communities and governments and work collaboratively. We see a lot of potential for our own community to connect the North Shore this way, whether it be through culture and community or whether it’s through business,” Khelsilem said.
The project has been in various stages of planning and upward budgets since the Squamish Nation and city council signed an agreement in 2014. Finding a way to get people through the busy marina without impacting operations was a feat of engineering, requiring crews to install a cofferdam to hold back the seawater while they installed a series of pre-cast concrete panels adjoined with and overlapping waterproofing.
The cement walls on either side of the section below sea level call to mind the Star Wars trench run as you make your way through. There is an almost 90-degree turn at the mid-point and there may be folks coming in the other direction you’ll want to slow your roll.
Welcoming people at the Bewicke Avenue entrance are two new pieces of public hard by Squamish Nation artists Jody Broomfield (Sinámḵin) and Xwalacktun, a colourful gateway feature entitled, We Hold Our Hands Up to You – Wa chet ḵ’ayáchtntumi and a five-tonne basalt carving referencing the land’s ancestral history and present-day life.
Out the door, that section of the trail cost about $7 million – money well spent, according to Meredith Cale who rode through the trail on opening day, towing her toddler Finnegan in a bike trailer.
“Oh, 100 per cent. I think everything the city’s done so far in terms of things like bike lanes and making it more accessible to walk, bike and run are great,” she said.
Cale said her husband commutes by bike every day and the new connection will make his trip faster, more enjoyable and most importantly, safer.
Noah Bloom said eliminating the “ugly detour” up Forbes will probably mean more trips to the Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie in the Habourside neighbourhood.
“Nobody enjoys it. It’s noisy. It’s uphill. It’s busy. We have kids,” he said.
For seven-year-old Josh Klochnyk, who was there for an opening day ride with his grandparents, the highlight was looking out a porthole partway through the section below sea level and watching the crane above lower a boat down into the water.
“Really cool,” he said. “It was like going under a river.”
Four-leggeds also stand to benefit with easier access to the Kings Mill Walk dog park, something Mosquito Creek resident Anne Farmer said her 11-year-old lap dog Fidel will enjoy.
“We had to drive to the puppy park so we didn’t go as often,” she said.