Chilliwack has the potential to be a vital hub of back country exploration with a world-class system of recreational trails.
That’s the long-term dream of the Chilliwack Trails Society.
But first things first.
The focus now that they’ve secured some federal funding, will be upgrading and brushing out 13 existing trails in the Chilliwack River Valley.
As an entity, the Chilliwack Trails Society is still in its earliest concept phase, explained Jack Bryceland, one of the Trails Society members, and project manager, as well as a long-time member of Chilliwack Search and Rescue.
“We’re starting off with the 13 hiking trails, but hopefully in the long-term we can talk about all kinds of uses across a wider area,” he said.
Job one is to try and address the trail system in the lower elevations of the CRV.
“There are trees down that need to be removed.”
Signage was also removed when the trails were de-established by the provincial government back in 2002.
“The existing trails had fallen into neglect and needed work,” he said.
The work plan for 2015 will focus on trail work like deadfall removal, repairing footpath treads, drainage work, and replacing the trail signage.
“At Mount Cheam people have been cutting switchbacks into it,” said Bryceland. “That could destroy the trail if there was a big rainfall and a washout.”
In a similar vein to others in the Chilliwack outdoor community trying to address inadequate trails infrastructure in the Eastern Hillsides, members of the Trails Society are trying to address the deficiencies in CRV trails.
So far the Trails Society members have secured $28,000 in federal funding from the National Trails Coalition, through the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC, along with matching funds from several local partners.
The trails effort will be known as the Chilliwack River Valley Hiking Trails Rehabilitation project.
Matching funds have come from partners such as: Chilliwack Forest District, Tourism Chilliwack, CEPCO, Chilliwack Outdoors Club, Give’r Take Around the Lake Society.
“If we can show success with this work, then we can move on to the bigger picture,” said Bryceland.
For Sam Waddington, a founding member of Trails Society, and owner of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors, the sorry state of the local trail network was a constant source of frustration to him.
“There was a real disconnect between the high quality of our back country, and the sub par status of the trails from a modern trail building standpoint,” said Waddington.
He envisions one day seeing foot bridges over wet sections, possibly, or good signage that indicates the length of the trail and what hiker can expect from historic slides to rare flora and fauna.
One day they might build a Cheam-to-Elk traverse trail, for example.
They’re also looking to parts of B.C. like Squamish, where they’re employing innovative best practices, with the idea of applying them here. It could attract more tourism and economic development with sustainable jobs.
“Our terrain is equal if not better and our trails network should reflect that,” Waddington said. “Very realistically the Fraser Valley should call Chilliwack their back country hub.”
Along with the varied partners, they’re also working with representatives from Chilliwack Search and Rescue, SD33 Outdoor Education programs and Provincial Parks to ensure that the work being done is in line with what the community needs, he added.
Soon they’ll be coordinating groups of volunteers to help with the trail work next year.
They’ll be working to include local First Nations in the trails project as well.
Waddington contributed a chunk of the project funding, along with pledging 1% of his annual store profits to the trails society.
It will fulfill the need he saw for a third party group to undertake the trails network management, and building the trails up to a higher standard.
“This is a wholly collaborative effort, bringing together the pioneers of the back country, with some new school approaches,” he said. “We hope it will change how Chilliwack sees itself.”
They’re starting small, but dreaming big.
“I dream of overnight trails along ridgelines with camping tent pads to allow hikers to extend their stay in the outdoors,” said Waddington.
“As well we need more short beginner grade trails leading to waterfalls, old growth forests and the like to make the backcountry more accessible to everyone.”