By Korie Marshall

Work to complete the Cranberry Marsh boardwalk and trail, completing the loop, has finally begun.

The plan to complete the trail loop through the Starratt Wildlife Sanctuary south of Valemount was approved by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations in 2012. Currently the trail connects with 17th Avenue, a residential road, for about a kilometer.

Valemount Tourism awarded constructing to local contractor Don Beeson Logging, but at the time the organization could not secure enough funding to complete the project. The cedar pilings for 570 meters of boardwalk over sensitive marshland were installed in the early winter to avoid unnecessary disruption to the habitat. The pilings were installed at a cost of $122,350.

Valemount Tourism applied to the Community Initiatives Program from Columbia Basin Trust in 2014 for another $118,887 to help complete the project, but was only approved for $38,887. In 2015, they again applied to the program, this time for $29,775, and were approved for that amount.

Silvio Gislimberti, the Village’s Economic Development Officer, says they received four proposals for phase 2. Since the Village did not have enough funds to complete the contract offered to Don Beeson Logging in 2012, the company was offered the option to match a bona fide offer within 10 days of the completion of the new competitive process. Don Beeson Logging matched the lowest proposal of $219,000 (the highest proposal was $423,098).

The majority of the funding comes from the provincial Resort Municipality Initiatives program which Valemount Tourism has been saving for the project, and the grants from CBT. A small portion of it ($16,595) will come from next fiscal year’s budget.

Last week, equipment and trucks were busy clearing and building some of the 350 meters of new trail that will connect the current trail to where the boardwalk is being constructed. Gislimberti says they hope the trail and boardwalk will be completed before Marsh 31, 2016, in plenty of time for next summer’s busy tourism season.

In March 2013, the Province announced the Cranberry Marsh/Starratt Wildlife Management Area. The Management Area combines Crown land, Nature Trust of BC properties, and privately donated land totaling 319 hectares of mostly marshland. About two thirds of the total management area was donated as a sanctuary in 1971 by the estate of Robert W. Starratt, a former bush pilot and well-known member of the Valemount Community.

The marsh features exceptional nature viewing opportunities, very close to the village and next door to a major hotel, and offers eco-friendly trails and viewing towers highly suitable for birdwatchers. Ducks Unlimited Canada also maintains a wetland enhancement project in the marsh, which includes dykes, nesting islands and water control structures. The marsh and its associated habitats are considered rare in this dry area in the Central Rocky Mountains and are also recognized as an environmentally sensitive aquatic area.