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Society holds timely orientation session

Local politicians are rallying around the Dakota Ridge Society in its efforts to develop the ridge into a winter recreation area.

Local politicians are rallying around the Dakota Ridge Society in its efforts to develop the ridge into a winter recreation area.

And while most recreation projects on the Sunshine Coast are fraught with contention, the Dakota Ridge proposal appears to be the exception.

All three governments are behind the society's plan to access 2010 Olympic Live Site funding. The funding could provide up to $330,000 if there is matching funding from the Sunshine Coast.

The chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), Ed Steeves, was one of 30 politicians and local community leaders who took part in an orientation at the ridge on Feb. 12.

"I had never been up there before. It was really exciting. They took four of us up to the top," Steeves said.

Steeves is impressed with the people in the society.

"They're so enthusiastic," he said.

And the regional district board is supporting the initiative as well. So far the board has passed several important resolutions.

The first is a request to have the Dakota Ridge area transferred from the Ministry of Forests to the SCRD as a recreation area. Secondly the SCRD board will apply for 2010 Olympic Live Site Funding. Under that initiative, up to $330,000 could be accessed to develop the area. However, the SCRD must act quickly to secure this funding. The application must be in by the end of March 2005, and the project must be completed by the end of March 2006.

And finally, a resolution has been passed to request road access be placed under the SCRD's control. While Steeves is sure the regional district can work with Weyerhaeuser, the current owner of the road, he wants the road declassified from industrial use. That way there would not be recreational users and logging trucks plying the same road.

Gibsons councillor Angela Letman and Barry Poole, a councillor for the District of Sechelt, are also in favour of the Dakota Ridge development.

For Letman, the trip up to the ridge was a way to reconnect with her past.

"I grew up in Ontario, and accessibility of snow sports was always a part of my life," she said.

Letman believes the development has great potential for all ages and all citizens of the Sunshine Coast.

"It's a great alternative to going off the Coast to find winter recreation opportunities," she said.

Letman also sees the ridge as a place for families to play together.

"Our kids learned to ski when they were four years old. Cross-country Ski Canada has a program called jackrabbit, and as soon as kids can walk they can learn to cross-country ski. And while the kids are learning the parents can go off and have a ski by themselves," Letman added.

Letman has been instrumental in a resolution passed by Gibsons council to commit $33,000 to the project. That amount will go into the budget for discussion. Letman is confident council will approve the expenditure.

"We see it as a real benefit to our residents as well as an opportunity to bring more winter tourists to the Coast," she said.

For his part, Poole is definitely in favour of the project but concerned about where the money will come from. He thinks the project is doable but is concerned that the matching funding for the grant ($330,000) must be raised so quickly.

"That's big dollars over a short period of time," he said.

And Poole is rankled that there isn't more support from the provincial government for local recreation.

"I always thought that's what lottery funds were for," Poole said.

Along with the local governments, the society is asking the community initiatives committee of the Community Futures Development Corporation for money. The funding that could come from the community economic development opportunity would enable a number of project components to begin. And while political support is important, there has also been "incredible support" from the local community, according to Dakota Ridge Society president Chris McNaughton. And the Sechelt Indian Band has been asked permission to approve the use of the area as a recreational facility.

The next few months will be a crucial time for the project. By mid-summer, the fate of the Dakota Ridge should be determined.