An avid trail runner, Trevor Dunn prides himself on having scaled every watershed from Vancouver to Squamish. It didn’t take him long to discover Howe Sound’s many radically different geographies, all within a few hundred metres.
Now he notices nature’s changes every day. “This little waterfall wasn’t there two days ago,” he says, pointing from the Sea to Sky Gondola that he co-created and opened in May 2014. He calls it the business of storytelling.
A chance encounter years ago with a thousand sandhill cranes in B.C.’s Interior convinced Trevor to become a storyteller. “They looked at me and I looked at them.” Then they exploded off the ground with a cacophony of sound. The nature displays at a nearby kiosk, riddled with bullet holes and covered in spray paint, didn’t answer his questions about what he’d just witnessed. “I remember thinking to myself, there has to be a better way to tell the story about a place that could convey how breathtaking it is.” He decided the best way was to get people to experience nature first-hand.
The gondola is his real-life storybook of Howe Sound. It has exceeded his goal of 300,000 visitors in its first year and is one of the region’s largest employers, with 80 full-time and 50 seasonal employees.
“…a better way to tell the story about this place that could convey how breathtaking it is.”
After extensive travels, Trevor concluded that Howe Sound was unparalleled in its tremendous yet underappreciated outdoor recreation opportunities. This is where mountaintop views show how a river meanders from its headwaters to merge with the ocean. You may even be fortunate enough to see herring swimming together in giant clusters the size of football fields (AKA ‘herring balls’) or falcons fighting eagles, all within easy reach by public transit of a large urban centre. This, he says, is Howe Sound’s long-term competitive advantage.
“There are very few corridors in the world that have the kind of travel patterns that exist here,” he says, referring to a study he used to calculate that 9.5 million people drove along the Sea-to-Sky corridor in a single year, 70 per cent of whom were interested in recreation. He sees this as an exceptional opportunity to transform the way people value nature.
Not everyone has the opportunity to make it on their own to the places Trevor has visited by trail. The gondola gives people with all levels of mobility access to spectacular views of glaciers and lets them experience life within the tree canopy, on a mountaintop and along forest trails.
“The more people are going to see it, the more the right decisions are going to be made about land use.”
In this age of urbanization and densification, he says, we can’t take for granted that the natural world will always be revered. “You have to continue to show it in all its glory.”
He recognizes the need to strike a balance between access and preservation of the area’s magnificence but maintains that it’s important to see with one’s own eyes.
“The more people are going to see it, the more the right decisions are going to be made about land use and treating Howe Sound in a way that puts it on a pedestal I feel it deserves.”