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Going downhill. Fast!

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“Tobogganing, which has sprung into such sudden popularity, is only a form of coasting. There is no more exciting and exhilarating sport for ladies and gentlemen than this on a clear, cold winter evening.”

  • Modern Manners and Social Forms: A Manual of the Manners and Customs of the Best Modern Society, James Bethuel Smiley, 1890

On the eastern slopes of Dakota Ridge, Emma Judd prepares for takeoff!

 

Even down at sea level and despite its name, the Sunshine Coast is no stranger to snow. Anyone who has grown up here can attest to cold snaps and snow days. Despite claiming to be 29, my mum-in-law Mary Vandeberg recalls the winter of 1954 vividly.

“We spent a lot time tobogganing down Davis Bay hill that winter,” says Mary. “We had spotters, but there really wasn’t much traffic to speak of in those days. And if there was, it wasn’t getting up that hill.”

Trouble with a capital T, Mary Vandeberg with her sister Gail somewhere on a road near Davis Bay, circa 1954.

For Mary’s daughter, my wife Leah, tobogganing the road down from Chatelech Secondary, was the ultimate way to celebrate a snow day.

Even in the snowiest winters of recent years, it’s difficult to image tobogganing Highway 101 from Selma Park down to Davis Bay, as Mary describes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other popular places to slide.

Located 14-km up the forest service road at the end of Field Road in Wilson Creek, Dakota Ridge is one of the few, if not the only sanctioned sliding area on the Sunshine Coast. Created in 2013, the sliding area has become a popular addition to the winter recreation venue, accounting for 30 percent of total traffic, according to the Sunshine Coast Regional District.

Especially popular with young families, the groomed hill is right behind a Quonset warming hut, which is equipped with a wood stove and picnic tables. If you’re craving some off-piste thrills, there’s a long, gentle clearing off Balsam Loop on Dakota Ridge’s eastern slope that’s perfect for building bumps and jumps.

We have liftoff! Ariana Harder takes to the skies above Dakota Ridge.

Local Cavin Crawford, who’s helped plow access roads to Dakota Ridge and the Tetrahedron for years, recommends a 200-metre slope at the eight-kilometre mark of the forestry road, near the turnoff for Dakota Bowl.

“You can drive up around the corner, let the kids out and drive down and pick them up,” says Cavin. “But please, do not toboggan on the road.”

Winter tires and chains are essential, if you’re planning to drive to Dakota Ridge; or catch the scheduled shuttle with Wilson Creek-based Alpha Adventures.

Closer to sea level, school fields are popular with the younger crowd. “The slope behind Gibsons elementary is good for younger kids and pretty good for building jumps,” says 12-year-old Kaishan Nonacowie. There’s also a gentle slope behind Elphinstone Secondary.

Flume Beach Park at the junction of Flume Road and Beach Avenue in Roberts Creek might be the closest you’ll get to sledding on the shoreline. It was a favourite spot when my kids were growing up and offers the added advantage of a scenic picnic area, plus the option of building a beach fire to warm up by.

In their element, Ariana Harder and Emma Judd on Dakota Ridge.

A poll of friends and family on Facebook elicited numerous favourite spots and a theme quickly developed: roads seem to be where it’s at. Some short, some steep, and most dead-ends. (My son suggested School Road in Gibsons, which might have been feasible in 1917-18, but not 2017-18.) While there’s room for discretion on secluded roads in particularly heavy snowfalls, as a rule, cars and toboggans don’t mix, especially for emergency services, highway maintenance contractors, and stranded residents.

Back in the 1970s, it was a different story, according to life-long Coast resident, Warren Hansen.

“My favourite hill was Benner Road, in Selma Park,” recalls Warren. “Back then, there was no such things as immediate plowing. People had to park on the highway in Selma Park and walk up to their homes. For at least a couple of days, kids could slide down Benner Road, or the top of Snodgrass and Chartwell, or the top of Radcliffe Road. Every kid from miles around would converge on this location.

“I remember a bunch of us piled on a toboggan racing other toboggans down the hill. We knew that once we passed a certain driveway it was time to bail otherwise we would blow the corner and get hurt. And most kids did get hurt from getting run into, going into the ditch, or bailing off the sled sliding at breakneck speeds.”

Mary Vandeberg and her sister Gail in the snowy Sunshine Coast winter of 1954.

Hansen acknowledges those days are over, but has mixed feelings.

“The plows, climate change and over-sensitive parents ruined the great sliding opportunities on Benner Road, which hasn’t been the same since those days. Then again, it could be because I grew up and know now that I would never let my kids slide on Benner Road.”

Wherever you end up sliding this winter, keep a few precautions in mind. BC Children’s Hospital recommends that young ones wear a ski, hockey, or bike helmet for tobogganing. Make sure your kids know how to control their speed and stop properly. Choose a slope away from roads and free from obstacles, such as rocks, trees, and fences. Never ride on a sled that is being pulled by anything motorized.

Bundle up, stay safe, and enjoy the snow!

 

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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.

Cabin fever

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Snowshoers make their way to Mount Steele Cabin, one of four cabins built by the Tetrahdron Outdoor Club in 1987. Reynold Schmidt photo

Snowshoers make their way to Mount Steele Cabin, one of four cabins built by the Tetrahdron Outdoor Club in 1987. Reynold Schmidt photo

 

“We came in by the light of the benevolent and gibbous moon waxing to near fullness. The skies were clear and the spirits were high, peeling laughter for 48 hours and sleeping for six.”

–          An entry in the Bachelor Lake Cabin, Tetrahedron Provincial Park

Some people move to the Sunshine Coast to get away from it all. The Tetrahedron is where Sunshine Coasters go to get away from it all. Six thousand hectares of mountains, lakes, streams, wetlands and forest, the Tet, as it’s fondly known, has long been cherished by backcountry enthusiasts.

In 1987, a group of those enthusiasts banded together to mobilize more than 200 volunteers, 45 businesses, schools, community groups and several levels of government: their mission, to build cabins linked by a trail network.

Back then, they called themselves the Tetrahedron Ski Club. A quarter of a century later, they’re the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club, a group justifiably proud of the legacy created northeast of Sechelt. Last summer, club members marked the 25-year milestone with dances, parties, pancake breakfasts and numerous trips down memory lane.

Tannis is one of 10 beautiful lakes in Tetrahedron Provincial Park.

Tannis is one of 10 beautiful lakes in Tetrahedron Provincial Park. In June, the lake was still partially frozen.

Now they’re enjoying the snow.

“Early December, after that first big dump of snow; that’s my favourite time to go,” says club president, Reynold Schmidt. “I usually go with club members, friends – before the crowds.”

It’s June when Reynold and I visit Bachelor Lake Cabin, a one-hour hike from the trailhead up Grey Creek Forest Service Road. With snow more than a metre deep in places, I’m grateful for snowshoes. Partially frozen Tannis Lake is a testament to the cold, wet spring endured down at sea level, 1,100 metres below. At least the mosquitoes are still asleep.

Tannis is one of 10 beautiful lakes in Tetrahedron Provincial Park. There are three mountain peaks – Panther, Steele and Tetrahedron – and some of the oldest trees in the country. Amabilis fir, mountain and western hemlock, yellow cedar and white pine can all be found here. So, too, can the club’s four rustic, two-storey cabins each built to accommodate 16 people – first-come, first serve. They can be reached via a 25-kilometre trail network and are located at Bachelor Lake, above Edwards Lake, between McNair and Chapman Lakes, and below the summit of Mt. Steele.

A 25-kilometre trail network links the Tetrahedron's cabins. Views are good any time of year. BC Parks photo

A 25-kilometre trail network links the cabins in Tetrahedron Provincial Park. BC Parks photo

Inside Bachelor Cabin, we stop for lunch, seated on a long wooden bench at a metal table. There’s a wood stove and firewood. Above us is a sleeping loft with foam mattresses. From the kitchen window, looking across frozen Bachelor Lake, it’s hard to imagine “crowds”. We haven’t seen a soul all day. But weekend and holidays during the winter can be busy at the cabins, confirms Reynold, a natural resource officer with B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

“We’ve had our problems with vandalism over the years, people coming just to party and not cleaning up after themselves,” he says. “There has been a lot of debate within the club to create a reservation system, but some members are adamant the cabins remain for everyone’s use.”

This year, the club has appointed stewards, two people per cabin, responsible for maintenance and regular monitoring. “They’re regular backcountry users who get to use the lockboxes to store their gear, so they don’t have to carry stuff in each time,” says Reynold.

“It helps dispel the sense that these are party cabins,” he adds.

Naturally, the cabins are there to be enjoyed. How they came to be there is a different story, far removed from pristine mountain air – below sea level in fact!

A basement in Franklin Road, Gibsons, is where George Smith pitched his idea for a cabin and trail network. In 1985, George had skied Mount Steele with his friend Ian McConnell on June 1 weekend. He was struck by the quality of the snow and the potential of backcountry recreation in the area.

Bachelor Cabin, the closest of the four cabins to the trail head.

Bachelor Cabin, the closest of the four cabins to the trail head.

“The Sunshine Coast was in the midst of an economic depression,” recalls George. “People weren’t exactly light and breezy, but I thought this idea made sense.”

George approached his Franklin Road neighbor, Wayne Greggain, the titular head of the Tetrahedron Ski Club. After a heyday in the late 1960s and 70s, mostly skiing Mount Elphinstone courtesy of a Tucker Snow Cat and 600-foot lift purchased from Hollyburn Mountain, the ski club was all-but defunct by 1985. Wayne agreed to host a meeting of ski enthusiasts in his basement where George explained his vision.

The prevailing mood, recalls George, was: “We don’t know how good an idea this is, but if we don’t do it, someone else might and they won’t do it right.”

The group agreed that if George could secure funding for the project, the ski club would run it as a non-profit. By the fall of 1986, George – then a sometimes reporter with the former Coast News – had secured more than $150,000 in federal funding and another $20,000 from the province.

Yet another Franklin Road resident, Paul Anslow, was contracted to build the cabins at Sechelt airport. The cabins would then be disassembled and flown by helicopter to be reassembled on site. Forestry company, Canfor, and the Sunshine Coast Regional District donated timber, Sechelt Creek Contracting provided logging service, Airspan donated some air time, Gibsons Building Supplies provided crane trucks and the Outdoor Recreation Council pitched in with chainsaws.

A small army of volunteers mobilized to clear trails while 18 people during the course of the project worked on the cabins.

George describes former club president and long-time member, Victor Bonaguro, “a force of nature” who could “build anything”.

“Part of the reason we were able to get funding was because we created an 11-point education plan for the workers, so they would have the tools to go out and find work afterwards,” says George. Aside from cabin-building, workers learned valuable lessons in surveying and industrial and wilderness first aid, thanks to time donated by local experts.

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By the time the cabins opened to the public in 1987, the club had raised more than $300,000 for the project. But perhaps more importantly, one great idea had united governments, businesses, and local volunteers in the midst of a recession, no less.

The Tetrahedron was declared a Class A provincial park in 1995. And in 2004, recognizing the year-round activities of its members, the ski club changed its name to the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club.”

“This resource is at least as good today as when it was first built,” says George, who’s still in love with the Tetrahedron.

“I feel lucky. When you walk in a forest that’s never been logged, it just feels different. It’s wonderful to be there.”

 

Summer comes late to Bachelor Lake, pictured here in June.

Summer comes late to Bachelor Lake, pictured here in June.

Written by nevjudd

January 19, 2013 at 11:06 am

White and wild on Dakota Ridge

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If cross-country skiing is a little slow for you, tobogganing should get your adrenaline racing on Dakota Ridge.

Forty minutes ferry-ride from West Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast is better known for The Beachcombers, scout camps and verdant shorelines. People don’t typically associate this 140-kilometre peninsula with snow. But there it is, several feet of the stuff, just waiting to be played in.

You just have to look up.

There's cross-country skiing for all ages on Dakota Ridge.

Poking through the clouds about 1,200 metres above the beaches and pretty parks is Dakota Ridge, one of the best cross-country ski destinations in the last place you’d expect to find it. Between November and March, if it’s raining at sea level, there’s a good chance it’s snowing up there.

And it’s only a 20-minute drive from sea level.

“You can come up for a couple of hours and be in a completely different world,” says Craig Moore, a cross-country skier and long-time member of the Dakota Ridge Winter Recreation Society, a non-profit group working to promote the area. “For cross-country skiing it beats anywhere on the west coast.”

It’s pretty good for tobogganing and snowshoeing, too.

A 620-hectare (1,532 acres) plateau atop a working watershed, Dakota Ridge offers a rolling landscape of stunted old growth hemlock and yellow cedar. On a clear day you can see the North Shore mountains, the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island beyond – even Mount Baker down in Washington State.

There are 13 kilometres of groomed trails for cross-country skiers on Dakota Ridge.

Cross-country skiers will find 13 kilometres of groomed Nordic trails, all of them signposted and colour-coded according to degree of difficulty. Professional engineer Reidar Zapf-Gilje, who prepared Callaghan Valley’s 2010 Nordic Olympic course, designed Dakota Ridge’s trail network.

“In many cross-country skiing areas you’re skiing through woods and you don’t see too much,” says Zapf-Gilje.

“Dakota Ridge is way up there in terms of esthetics. Its real strength is its potential for recreation and citizen [cross-country] races.”

Jamie Mani hopes that potential will be realized. Mani owns Alpha Adventures, a Wilson Creek outdoor-adventure store specializing in guided snowshoe and cross-country ski touring on the Ridge.

When it's not snowing, the views from Dakota Ridge can be spectacular.

“One of the great things about this place is its proximity to so many other activities,” says Mani. “Someone can literally be out snowshoeing in the morning up in the mountains and then golfing or kayaking in the afternoon.

“And for Nordic skiing we have excellent potential because of great snowfall and a blend of flat and rolling trails. We have been skiing on the Ridge as late as May in previous years.”

Snowshoers will find their own trails and there’s plenty of room for hiking and tobogganing. You’ll find a parking lot, warming hunt and toilet at the trailhead.

The turnoff for Dakota Ridge is at the top of Field Road in Wilson Creek, about half way between Gibsons and Sechelt, and 20 kilometres drive from BC Ferries’ Langdale terminal. For many years, the unplowed access road to Dakota’s trailhead made it a ridge too far for some. In recent years the 11-kilometre road has been upgraded to allow for regular plowing, but four-wheel drive vehicles equipped with chains are still the way to go.

Or take advantage of Alpha Adventure’s shuttle service.