THE STONE CORRAL

Residents and visitors to Tumbler Ridge now have over thirty hiking trails to choose from, thanks to the efforts of the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society (WNMS), the non-profit group that has explored the area, and designed, and helped build and maintain them.

A new brochure, available from the Visitor Centre, summarizes these trails, which lead to such diverse destinations as alpine summits, dinosaur trackways, caves, canyons, waterfalls, wetlands, lakes, and historic sites. Some find the variety of options quite overwhelming, and don?t know where to start.

Some of these destinations are spectacular, but can be duplicated elsewhere. Others are truly unique to the Tumbler Ridge area. This feature highlights three of these unique trails.

The Stone Corral is a success story, the Boulder Gardens is a success story hopefully in the making, and the Monkman Pass Memorial Trail is a project in evolution. Between them they epitomize what makes Tumbler Ridge such a truly special place to live in and to visit.

In the late 1990s the search was on for caves in the Tumbler Ridge area, and WNMS members would seek out promising destinations to explore in the limestone belt southwest of the community. One of the tools was the use of aerial photographs and stereoscopic glasses. When looking at the Kinuseo Falls area with this technique, some unusual limestone topography was noted just two kilometers to the east. It was early November 1999, and the first blizzard of the season did not deter the WNMS exploration party that resulted.

The findings were spectacular ? a series of springs, ponds and sinkholes set amongst superb karst scenery, and a feature of unsurpassed beauty, something that would come to be called the Stone Corral. Here was a frozen lakelet surrounded on three sides by imposing cliffs, and at the far end a roomy horizontal cave. Inside Corral Cave were a few interesting features, such as moonmilk, small stalactities, and phreatic tubes.

In the spring the group returned, and discovered more small caves, including Porcupine Cave with its super-tight optional squeeze passage that filters out the not-so-skinny. One of the accessible cliff-walls above the Stone Corral featured a huge area of trace fossils which has come to be called The Mural. Amazingly, despite the close proximity to Kinuseo Falls, there was no evidence of any previous human presence in the area, and nothing in the historical record.

The discovery party showed the area to other cavers and hikers, all of whom were entranced by the Stone Corral and agreed that such a unique karst area not only required protection, but also had the potential to become a first-class hiking destination. The only problem was that it lay just outside the boundary of Monkman Provincial Park.

BC Parks and Canfor were contacted, and with amazing speed the issue was sorted out. At the time BC Parks was working on a number of boundary questions for the park, so the timing was perfect. Canfor acknowledged

that the topography of the area was so rough that logging was impractical, and willingly gave up its logging tenure in the area. Within months the boundary of Monkman Provincial Park was redrawn so as to include the Stone Corral.

In 2001 BC Parks and WNMS worked together to establish the most viable route for a four-kilometer long hiking trail, which was then built by an E-team supported by the District of Tumbler Ridge. Improvements in recent years have included fixed ropes on the steeper sections and a barricade beside the enormous drop-off at the top viewpoint.

Prior to the building of this trail, there had been little for most visitors to do in the park other than enjoy the views of Kinuseo Falls. Suddenly there was another major attraction, something that would entice visitors to stay in the region longer. In the past five years, visitor use has been steadily increasing, and the Stone Corral trail is now one of the most heavily used in the region. It is even becoming a victim of its own success, as some of the steeper sections have become eroded and are in need of repair.

Although the caves are small, they are the only ones in the whole northeast that can be easily visited. They tend to enchant kids in particular, who can often be found doing laps through Porcupine Cave, swimming in the deep waters of the lake, or drinking the fresh spring water.

The Stone Corral is a unique destination in the region, an essential part of the Tumbler Ridge hiking trail package, and a testimony to the successful co-operation between volunteers, Parks and industry.