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Trail and tribulation in Powell River

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Make it to the top of Tin Hat Mountain and you will be rewarded with 360-degree views of more than two-dozen lakes. Plus you’re half way to finishing the trail! Photos courtesy Eagle Walz

Connecting Sarah Point, near Lund, to the ferry terminal at Saltery Bay, the 180-kilometre Sunshine Coast Trail now ranks among the greatest hiking trails in the world, according to Explore Magazine’s Top-50 list. Not only is it more than twice the length of the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, it’s Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail, and it’s free!

The trail’s mix of old growth forest, mountain peaks and sandy shoreline, attract thousands of visitors from around the world each year. Fifteen beautifully constructed huts en route provide overnight accommodation on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“It’s beginning to be seen as an economic driver in Powell River,” says Eagle Walz. “It’s the biggest recreational tourism resource we have.”

Walz is a trailblazer, one of a handful of outdoor enthusiasts who in 1992 realized that accessible old growth on the Upper Sunshine Coast was fast disappearing. They formed the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS), a non-profit committed to setting aside protected areas on a trail sufficiently unique to lure locals and tourists alike.

Eagle Walz in his element, hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail. Walz is a co-founder of the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society, the non-profit behind the trail’s creation and upkeep.

PRPAWS mobilized volunteer work parties and began connecting the bushwhacked paths, deactivated roads, and disused railway grades left behind by a century of logging. In some places that meant constructing bridges – some 120 feet long – to ford creeks and rivers. They found enduring allies in a group of bloody old men, otherwise known as the BOMB (Bloody Old Men’s Brigade) squad. Comprising mostly retirees, many of whom practiced their trades at Powell River’s paper mill, the BOMB squad helped build bridges and huts, and are still counted upon for help in the trail’s never-ending maintenance.

The first time I interviewed Eagle for a story back in 2000, he was fending off criticism from a variety of sources over liability issues and the environmental concerns about sensitive wildlife areas. Walz and his cohorts had run into a host of jurisdictional challenges, too. Crown forest land, private land owned by logging companies, and Tla’amin Nation land are among the eight jurisdictions through which the trail crosses.

Seventeen years ago, he addressed those questions with a question of his own: “Would the trail have been built if we’d settled all these issues first?”

When I caught up with Eagle earlier this year, that question at least, appeared to have been answered. “You couldn’t start this trail now and try and make this happen,” says Eagle. “But that doesn’t mean the logging companies won’t stop logging. Western Forest Products, with their tree farm licence, they are the biggest interest. We manage to work together and eke out considerations. I only wish it would be a bigger buffer along the trail than we get most of the time.”

That buffer can be from 10 to 30 metres, sometimes more. Occasionally, the trail must be relocated in places. Overall, says Eagle, compromise and varying levels of protection ensure the trail’s viability.

“Our vision is that in 100 years, we’ll have no more logging near the trail,” he says. “It will be designated an old growth trail to be enjoyed by future generations. It needs someone to be the champion for it. We’re hopeful the younger generation will take over and certainly a lot of younger people are using it. People of all ages.”

Perhaps more challenging to PRPAWS is pressure on the trail from non-hikers.

“Mountain biking is very popular here, as it is everywhere else. The pressure is always to turn something into something else. But a multi-use trail wouldn’t have the same appeal as a single-use trail. We’re struggling to remain a hiking trail only because that’s what’s given us the edge in the market place. That’s what is bringing people by the thousands from all over the world to Powell River.”

In the meantime, trail maintenance keeps Eagle busier than ever. Ten years retired as a teacher, Eagle says he has time to enjoy the trail, but it’s usually when he’s part of a work party. The day I call him, he’s about to leave on just such a mission – a five-night trip to Confederation Lake, a steep section of the trail in Inland Lake Park, north of Powell River.

Eagle Walz takes in the view from the hut atop Tin Hat Mountain.

It’s a favourite spot, he says, before adding: “I think usually where I’m working, I like that part the best.” Eagle’s other cherished locations include Tin Hat Mountain with its 360-degree views of more than two-dozen lakes; and Mount Troubridge, popular for its magnificent stands of Douglas fir and yellow-cedar old growth.

When Eagle’s not on the trail, he’s writing about it – though not in the way he might have envisaged in 1972, when he moved to Powell River to write poetry: “I write hundreds and hundreds of emails,” he says in a deadpan voice. “That’s basically the extent of my writing.”

  • Visit http://sunshinecoast-trail.com/ for everything you need to know about planning a trip, including the definitive guide to the trail, written by – who else? – Eagle Walz.
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Heart of green

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Sechelt Rotarians, Tom Pinfold (right) and Mick van Zandt on the trails of Kinnikinnick.

Sechelt Rotarians, Tom Pinfold (right) and Mick van Zandt on the trails of Kinnikinnick.

Shirley Macey didn’t have time to waste. When she wasn’t coaching kids, she was raising a family, working as a Gibsons RCMP dispatcher, and lobbying local government for more recreational space.

Somehow she found time every week to climb Soames Hill with a garbage bag to pick up other people’s litter.

“She was pretty amazing,” remembers her son Darin. “I didn’t think much of it growing up; now I don’t know how she did it.”

At the southern end of the Coast, 14 hectares of Soames Hill Regional Park are named after Shirley Macey. No doubt she would be proud of the soccer fields, the wheelchair-accessible playground and Frisbee golf course. Shirley – or Sam (an acronym of her full name, Shirley Amelia Macey) to her friends – was a dedicated volunteer whose legacy is by no means unique.

Shirley Macey, Maryanne West, Ted Dixon, Cliff Gilker and Hackett are – to name a few – venues so familiar to most of us that it’s easy to forget that they were also people. Ted Dixon, for example, worked tirelessly for self-government for the Sechelt Indian Band before dying in a car crash in 1981. Maryanne West was the backbone of community TV and so many volunteer projects before dying at age 90 in 2008.

Scavenging the Porpoise Bay shoreline. Sunshine Coasters are spoiled for choice when it comes to parks and beaches.

Scavenging the shoreline at Porpoise Bay. For parks and beaches, Sunshine Coasters are spoiled for choice.

And not all parks bear a family name. Brothers Memorial Park in Gibsons was named for logging contractors, Al and George Jackson who donated the land.

Today, volunteers continue to be the lifeblood of the Sunshine Coast’s parks and trails. In fact, the parks system wouldn’t work without them.

“We totally rely on volunteerism,” says Sunshine Coast Regional District parks planning coordinator, Sam Adams. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without it.”

For the SCRD that means mobilizing volunteer help in bigger parks like Dakota Ridge, where members of the Dakota Ridge Advisory Committee have been particularly helpful. Volunteers also help the SCRD maintain trails at Soames Hill, most recently working to improve the wooden stairs. Now the regional district is hoping to cultivate more volunteer assistance with an adopt-a-trail program.

“Part of our work plan for 2013 is to develop a more robust volunteer program,” says SCRD parks planning coordinator, Susan Mason. “We have kilometres and kilometres of trails to maintain, so people willing to document changes on a regular basis are helpful to us.”

The government-volunteer relationship is similar elsewhere on the Coast. District of Sechelt parks supervisor Perry Schmitt is grateful for the work of several trail building groups, as well as established service clubs.

Sunshine Coast Lions Club president Len Schollen at the site of the Lions' next project, an accessible viewing deck in the corner of Mission Point Park.

Sunshine Coast Lions Club president Len Schollen at the site of the Lions’ next project, an accessible viewing deck in the corner of Mission Point Park where the beach and Chapman Creek meet.

“The Lions Club has been instrumental in making improvements to Mission Point park and the Sechelt Rotary Club has been assisting in rebuilding decks throughout Kinnikinnick forest trails,” says Schmitt. He also cites the work of the Sechelt Groves Society at the Heritage Forest trails, and the Sunshine Coast Natural History Society, which tends to Sechelt Marsh.

On a cold blustery day, Sunshine Coast Lions Club president Len Schollen shows me work completed on the Mission House deck and the next project – an accessible viewing deck in the corner of Mission Point Park where the beach and Chapman Creek meet.

“We’re basically waiting for some decent spring weather to build the viewing platform and a hard-surface ramp leading up to it,” says Schollen, surveying the footings already in place. “There’ll be a railing around it and hopefully some signs with information about the salmon run and pointing out places like Mount Arrowsmith.”

Why are Schollen and other Lions members involved in the project? “We serve, is the Lions’ motto,” says Schollen simply. “We try to make this a better place to live.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Sechelt Rotarians, Tom Pinfold and Mick van Zandt, when I meet them on the trails of Kinnikinnick park.

“We wanted to work on small projects where a few people could work for a few hours on something with lasting benefit,” says Pinfold. “We’d much prefer to let the District allocate their resources to new things instead of maintenance.”

With other Rotarians, the pair has replaced and built cedar bridges and decks throughout Kinnikinnick’s trails during the last three years. Topped with roofing tiles, the decks are essential given the drainage issues on multi-use trails in a popular park. The new bridges should be good for at least 10 years, reckons Pinfold. (Elsewhere in Kinnikinnick park and at Sprockids park in Langdale, Capilano University students hone their trail-building skills as part of the Mountain Bike Operations Certificate curriculum.)

There are 13 kilometres of groomed trails for cross-country skiers on Dakota Ridge, yet another Sunshine Coast playground.

There are 13 kms of groomed trails for cross-country skiers on Dakota Ridge, yet another Coast playground.

Pinfold and van Zandt have also worked on a wheelchair accessible deck at Halfmoon Bay’s Trout Lake and a viewing platform and trail in Roberts Creek’s Cliff Gilker park.

Elsewhere, volunteers continue to make the Sunshine Coast a great place to play. If you’re searching for the heart of the Sunshine Coast you’ll find it in any park or trail. From Pender Harbour’s Lions Park (the best soccer field on the Coast) to the mountain bike trails of Sprockids Park in Langdale, outdoor recreation thrives because people care enough to make it happen.

People like Shirley Macey.

Shirley didn’t live to see the park she’d fought for named in her honour. Just months after retiring from the RCMP and paying off her mortgage, she died of cancer in 1998.

“I didn’t realize until I was older that quite a few people called her mom,” recalls Darin, who has four kids of his own now. “I met all these people I knew at her service who thought of her as a surrogate mother.

“My kids are certainly proud of the park’s name. It’s too bad she died so young.”

Trail Mix

There are numerous opportunities to get involved in outdoor volunteering. Here are a few websites where you’ll find more information.

http://www.secheltrotary.org/

http://secheltlionsbc.lionwap.org/

http://www.scrd.ca/Parks

http://secheltgroves.com/

email tony@whiskeyjacknaturetours.com for the Sunshine Coast Natural History Society

Thanks to the Sechelt Community Archives and the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives for their help in researching this feature.

Purpose and Porpoise Bay

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Ryan, where I like him to be: On dry land.

About 10 years ago my son Ryan learned how to ride a bike here at Porpoise Bay. Back ache and heart ache were the prevailing emotions as my four-year-old finally wobbled away from me along the green towards the forest.

Ten years later I’m back here, sitting on the shore of Sechelt Inlet, looking for Ryan. He was last seen paddling an inflatable dinghy with three 14-year-old friends whose idea of “planning” was to bring a paddle: Sunscreen and lifejackets, not so much.

“We’re probably not going to get far,” were Ryan’s last words heading away. That was two hours ago.

Every year, you’ll find us camping here, usually on Canada’s Labour Day weekend. It’s a ritual I like to think of as planned spontaneity – the last chance to fill days with life’s pointless yet most meaningful pursuits: reading, writing, playing, eating and drinking.

There are lots of friends and no deadlines.

Porpoise Bay is a beautiful camping spot with sheltered sites, wooded trails and a sandy beach on the inlet. The sites and trails were carved out of the forest by Ole Johansen. In the 1940s, Ole was a champion ski jumper, competing all over the Pacific Northwest. He was the caretaker at Mount Seymour in North Vancouver, living in the two storey cabin he built himself. Every week the native Norwegian would walk from Mount Seymour Highway back up the mountain after evening classes to improve his English. It took him three hours each time.

I say a quiet thank you to Ole every time I come here, and to Leah, who brought me here the first time. Growing up in London, my experience of camping was a farmer’s field in Dorset and disorganized rows of tents, tarps and windbreakers. The camp site at Charmouth had all the privacy of a refugee camp.

It’s almost 7 p.m. and I’m a little anxious. I only wish my legs could race as fast as my mind.

“Oh, they’ll be back when they’re hungry,” the mum of one of Ryan’s fellow paddlers tells me.

At 7, their boat appears from behind an island in the inlet. Ryan’s friend is wearing pyjama bottoms. The four of them are a mix of bronzed and burnt, all of them bearing the scars of a late afternoon session of cliff jumping.

They disembark and Ryan sees us on the beach.

“What’s for dinner?” he says.

 

Written by nevjudd

September 4, 2011 at 8:56 am

Fat wieners at Fort Stevens

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Ryan skimboarding: Dude's ill.

I get a little excited in new places. (I don’t get out much.)

The moment I saw Cannon Beach I literally ran down Hemlock Street (the main drag), inquiring about places to stay for the night. For those of you familiar with Whistler, BC, it’s a bit like showing up Christmas week and asking if there are any cheap places to stay – ski in/ski out, preferably one night.

Here's one of the 200 photos I took of the Peter Iredale, a century-old wreck on the Fort Stevens shoreline.

So we ended up camping half an hour away in Fort Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River for $40 a night. The KOA campground here has thought about everything a camper might want and provided it, right down to a free endless pancake breakfast (cue angels singing), a giant, bouncy inflatable pillow (not castle), indoor swimming pool, dog run (kind of a fenced off assault course – Wipeout for canines), mini golf, Internet cafe (hence this blog) and laundromat/games room. (Play ping pong during your rinse cycle.)

We’re in a tent, but there’s a range of cabins available and some of the RVs pulling in are far bigger than their names suggest: Scamper, Prowler and Arctic Fox hardly conjure up 15-wheeled juggernauts but that’s what most of them are. The 20-wheeled Bitch Slap at least lives up to its name.

The calm of Coffenbury Lake, for when the onshore breeze gets a little too bracing at the beach.

Better than the campsite though, is the beach – a bike ride away and every bit as epic as Cannon Beach, but without Haystack Rock. Unlike most of the accommodation options around here during the height of summer, the beach is empty – too vast to be conquered by tourists. It also doesn’t take kindly to ships, wrecking 2,000 of them since 1792. This isn’t the first place to describe itself as the Graveyard of the Pacific, but Fort Stevens’ credentials are impressive. The Columbia River has been forming and reforming pesky sandbars for centuries, creating endless hazards for boats that stray too close to the shoreline; boats like the century-old Peter Iredale, whose remains continue to rust on the shoreline here.

Does the sand make my wiener look fat?

We’re heading back to Portland tonight. The newlyweds camping next to us have awoken me several times. One of them snores louder than the hemmy engine on a 20-wheeled Bitch Slap. I give the marriage 18 months.

PS: As far as I know, there is no RV called a Bitch Slap. I made it up.

Written by nevjudd

August 19, 2011 at 8:45 am