Friday morning dawned bright and early. A group of volunteers gathered at Charles Helm’s house as a staging area for a trip up to Windfall Lake. The day’s objective: to install a series of boardwalks, tent pads, a bear cache and an outhouse at what has become one of the Tumbler Ridge Geopark’s preeminent destinations.
The night before, some of the supplies had been pre-loaded from where they were being stored at the District of Tumbler Ridge’s yard, including the bear cache and some other materials.
Tony States from End to End Carpentry and Renovations was there with a large trailer, into which he and a few other people were loading sections of boardwalks.
By quarter after, everyone who was to meet has gathered, and the group pulls out. In addition to Tony and his crew, there is Kevin Sharman, whose mission it is to install the boardwalks. While he and wife Birgit were hoping to help all day, today is the day of the Quintette Reunion, and they have people staying at their place, so Birgit had to cancel. Sharman himself will only be working on the first few kilometres of trail, then taking off early.
Anthony Moreau is the one organizing this event. He says he got the idea last August when he and a group went up to spend the night. “We were spending the night and planned on doing some hiking,” says Moreau. “There was a party of eight of us, and there were two other parties up there, too. I thought we have to do something, because everyone was staying in different spots, having fires, cutting down these ancient trees. The impact was noticeable.”
When he returned, he mentioned the impact on the site to Helm, and suggested that some tent pads be built there. “Charles said give me a budget and tell me what you need,” says Moreau. “We sent the budget into the Peace River Regional District, who approved it. Last year, Charles got funding from the PRRD for the boardwalk project, and they were very willing to help us out with what we asked for this year; they were very pleased with how we spent the funds last year and so were very generous this year in helping us out.”
The money from the PRRD went to buy material as well as helicopter time from Ridge Rotors Helicopter Services to fly all the stuff in. “This is the third consecutive year that the Peace River Regional District has provided significant funding for our Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society trail projects,” says Helm, who is secretary for WNMS. “We greatly appreciate this support, and hope that once again we have justified their confidence in us. We had a wonderful team of volunteers and supporters work on the project this year, and Anthony’s leadership and enthusiasm have been phenomenal.”
The crew has just managed to unload everything when Marc Bresse from Ridge Rotors lands in a clearing a few kilometres from the trailhead. The supplies are organized into four piles, then one group starts hiking up the trail. They are carrying some sections of boardwalk for the first part of the trail, but the majority will be dropped off at a section of boardwalk that was installed last year, the first load for Bresse.
While the first group walks in, Moreau and a couple people catch a ride up to the lake itself to guide Bresse to the appropriate drop site. States remains at the loading zone to help attach the loads to the Helicopter. “Tony is quite experienced doing that,” says Moreau, “having spent time doing it while he was serving in the Canadian Military.”
In addition to the bear cache, which Moreau sourced a couple months ago from Rollins Machinery out of Langley and the toilet from Zeebest Plastics out of St. Albert, Alberta, there are dozens of 4X4s, rebar and tools. “All our materials were sourced as locally as possible,” says Moreau. “We bought all the lumber from Ace Hardware here in town. Dean was extremely accommodating, cutting our rebar to 30 inch lengths.”
As we wait for the helicopter to return with the first load, Moreau explains his plans for the area. While he’s only been going up to the lake since last spring, it has quickly become his favourite destination in the area. “It’s an amazing place,” he says. “It has special significance. We have a lot of amazing areas, but there’s something about Windfall that touches your soul when you walk into the bowl. The first time I went up there was last spring, and I instantly fell in love. The lake, with the ridges in the background… We made a number of significant fossil discoveries that trip, too. It just gives you such a sense of awe, with the lake and the mountains towering over it. All your worries just flow away up here.”
“One of the things the WNMS wants to do is build trails, yes, but also conservation. We want to create access and tourism opportunities, but with the least impact as possible. Having places where people can set up their tents will reduce the impact on the alpine. Some of those trees are three hundred years old. They’ve been here since well before the idea of mining coal was thought of. I love Tumbler Ridge, and want to see it survive.”
In addition to the camping sites, the plan is to install educational signage. “One of the things we want to reduce is our impact on the caribou. The Quintette herd is in the area; they can be very intimidated and stressed out by people. I was talking to Amy Flasko, who is a caribou recovery biologist with the Government of Alberta, and she provided the information for the interpretive signage.”
There will also be signs about the trees, with information provide by Mark Phinney from Dawson Creek. Despite the tree’s small size, he says, the trees are hundreds of years old, and people cutting them down for firewood is a poor practice.
The first load of wood arrives and Moreau and volunteer Antonio Suncion begin to distribute the four by fours to the various tenting sites scattered about the area. The sites are well spread out, to give each group privacy.
The two are well on the way to getting the bear cache installed when the rest of the volunteers arrive. Recent Grads Brian Burciaga and Brodie Bertrand also came along. The two are working as part of a Job Creation Program Grant by the New Life Assembly Church, and have been helping out on various projects around town.
By the end of day one, the crew has installed the bear cache, the toilet and finished three tent pads. On Saturday, Moreau, as well as Bertrand and Kelly Fry from the day before, and Jane Butters head out to finish the last three tent pads, connecting everything with trails.
Moreau says this is just the start of the project. In addition to the signs (installed a week later during a Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society hike to the area), he has a long term dream of establishing a multi-day hike, connecting Windfall to Albright Ridge.