Travels along the trail


Trent Ernst, Editor

Work will soon be starting on the new ATV trail that will run along the ridge from the communications towers northeast of town to Quality Lake.

On Tuesday, June 7, a group of folks went out to scout the trail, including Julie Croston, representing the Grizzly Valley ATV Club, Ben Heemskerk, the Regional Manager of Recreation Sites and Trails for Northern BC, Trevor Hann, the Recreation Officer for the Peace and Sarah Waters, Manager for the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark and Archaeologist.

“I’m keen to see the route through Sarah’s eyes,” says Hann. “It will help us to see how the trail will go.”

For her part, says Waters, she is hoping to be able to identify sites of possible archaeological interest. Generally, this won’t be finding artifacts, she says, but identifying areas of possible travel or encampments for people in the past. “I’m hoping to give you education so that I don’t have to run up there 20 times over the summer,” she says. These sort of areas include possible campsites as well as places where people may have stopped in the past.

While there’s little possibility of finding big permanent camps, there is a good chance of finding expedient sites. “Places where people could go hunting. Go on a vision quest. If there are sites, they would be day sites. Here you’d find things like hide scraping tools, flakes from tools.”

She says she’ll survey some areas and not find a single archaeological site, but just down the ridge for the proposed Thunder Mountain site, she found ten sites. A proposed campsite on Quality Lake has been put on hold already due to archaeological values.

As well, she says, she’s going to be looking for natural travel routes that may have been used in the past: typically the tops of ridges.

If there are too many possible archaeological sites identified, then there may need to be an actual dig along the route, but for now, she says, the hope is to just flag off areas that may be archaeologically interesting so that they aren’t disturbed by the trail.

The purpose of the trip was to discuss the proposed route along the ridge, as well as identify any sites that were historically or environmentally sensitive.

The group has allotted about six hours to hike the 12 km route. While there are no formal trails on top of the ridge, locals have been hiking up there for the last thirty years, and a number of well-maintained routes have been developed, some of which are going to be incorporated into the new ATV trail.

The proposed route begins along an old road, about 800 m east of the Quality Canyon trailhead, though little remains to mark the road from the Highway other than a small clearing on the south side of the road.

Bashing through a thick growth of alder, the old road is followable for the first few dozen or so metres, before more alder and small evergreen choke it out. Here, the group takes its first of many breaks to discuss trail routing. We are hiking slightly to the right of the trail, says Bill Boardman, but the actual route will follow the old roadbed.

This, says Heemskerk is a good thing, as the less new disturbance the trail makes the better. And for Waters, this means that the area has either already been surveyed in the past, or has seen previous disturbance, so keeping the trail to the road means no sites to worry about.

After about an hour, and many more discussions, the trail diverges from the old road and begins to climb towards the top of the ridge. And while there are a few points of concern on how to balance potential disturbances from the trail and creating an interesting riding route, this section is fairly easy.

Beyond the tower, however, things began to become more complex. First, the proposed route takes riders down the road for a few hundred meters, while Boardman wants to get riders off the road as soon as possible.

Then, the proposed route as GPSed by the ATV club begins to deviate from the route as described by the ATVers. It isn’t so bad when the route is set back from the top of the ridge, but at points the route is over the edge and 100 meters downslope, which is highly unlikely. This is written off as a technological error, but will create issues as the actual route needs to be reviewed by various interest groups, which could, warns Hann, delay the start of construction.

Waters flags off a few areas as Machine Free Zones, but there are only a few sites identified along the route. Heemskerk, meanwhile, discusses impact mitigation with Boardman. In areas where the ground appears to be wet at least part of the year, he discusses the idea of laying down corduroy, or possibly bringing in some gravel so there isn’t a mud hole created along the route.

“The nature of this trail will be different than a hiking trail,” says Heemskerk to Boardman. “We have a document outlining the trail building gold standards. We can have discussions around that. The standards have developed around purpose building trails for mountain biking. In the long term, we want to see a trail that is going to last long term.”

As we climb, the discussion goes off in a variety of directions. Hann and Boardman discuss their shared love of horseback riding. Waters and Heemskerk, their love of climbing. But the discussion keeps winding back to the trail and how to route it properly, how to build it properly, what the best tools are to do this.

After the allotted six hours, we are still maybe two and a half kilometres from the lake. While there is a trail that heads down to the road, people opt to do a quick walk of the proposed route, just to take a look. But the trees begin to sock in, and ultimately the decision is made to cut out to the road, about two km shy of the lake, bashing through, at turns, thick alder, tightly spaced evergreens and acres of blowdown before popping out onto the Bearhole Lake road, where Croston’s husband Tim is waiting near an old road just south of where we pop out. “Oh, there you are,” he says. “I was expecting you to come out on that old road; that runs nearly all the way up to the ridge.”