A local group is hoping to link hillside trails from Bridal Falls Provincial Park (above) the Easter Hillsides.

World class potential seen in Chilliwack hillside trails

Chilliwack Park Society hopes to one day see trails connecting Bridal Falls, to the Chilliwack Community Forest above Allan Road

Picture a vast network of trails snaking through the hillsides above Chilliwack.

That’s the vision of a new group formed to advocate for better parks and trails in Chilliwack, said Marc Greidanus, one of the founders of the Chilliwack Park Society.

“Our first big project is the facilitation of a trail system above the Eastern Hillsides,” he said.

So far they’ve had talks with City of Chilliwack, FVRD and Ministry of Forests, and local outdoor-oriented groups.

The basic idea is to build a multi-use trail system, connecting Bridal Falls Provincial Park, to the Chilliwack Community Forest above Allan Road, eventually connecting to the Elk-Thurston saddle and Ryder Lake.

The trails would be for hiking, running, mountain biking and horseback riding, and would dovetail with new development eyed for the eastern hillsides. City of Chilliwack has a long-term plan for trails in the area, which are connected to potential development cells in the hillsides.

“If the city follows through on even half of those proposed walking trails, and they connect to our proposed trail system on Crown land, it will create a world-class outdoor network connecting multiple communities,” offered Greidanus.

Trail work by Chilliwack Park Society volunteers could begin as early as the spring of 2015.

First they would start on clearing a trail from Allan Road to Bridal Falls, before going the other way from Allan Road to the hanging valley about Elk Falls, and on to the Elk-Thurston saddle, and a through trail to Ryder Lake.

Their work will ultimately be aimed at getting more Chilliwackians outdoors, actively exploring their mountainsides, said Greidanus, whose day job is as a local physician at the hospital.

The new trails would encourage more physical activity, like the Japanese practice of “shinrin-yoku,” sometimes described as ‘forest bathing’ for reducing stress and improved health.

Build-out estimates could see a population of 6,700 people living on the Eastern Hillsides over the coming years, which is part of what’s driving the trails effort.

“Chilliwack residents from Popkum to Promontory will be able to leave the car in the garage, walk out their front door and embark on anything from an hour jog, to a multi-day alpine hike,” he said, fleshing out their vision. “It’s more ‘shinrin yoku’ for the citizens of Chilliwack.”

City officials have indicated support for the idea of building parking lot near the 50-acre Community Forest, between Allan Road and Ruddock Road.

The Park Society’s funding is expected to come from fundraising and grants.

So who will build all the trails?

“Volunteers, friends and people from my church, who have said they are willing to help,” he replied. “The good thing is that people are really on-board with this.”

The trails are one aspect of the society’s vision. Parks and green spaces are another.

The group’s volunteers will perform tasks like the trail building, helping with park planning prior to land development, rejuvenating existing parks and eventually raising money towards the purchase of land for nature trusts or community forest.

They’ve discussed the idea with the Chilliwack Trail Society, FVMBA, and the Chilliwack Riding Club, and others. Next up is further talks with FVRD reps, with a meeting set for Nov. 25, and meetings with local First Nations.

Here is the society’s purpose:

“To advocate for existing and new park and green spaces in Chilliwack that foster active, healthy lifestyles while protecting valuable flora and fauna.

“We aim to collaborate and build partnerships with local government, Chilliwack residents, and others to create sustainable parks in this growing, dynamic, and environmentally diverse area.”

They’ve worked hard to establish some early buy-in at various levels of government by purposely taking “a respectful and collaborative” approach, noted Greidanus.

If the early section gets built, it could set the stage for the entire network.

“After that, over the years we can start adding biking, hiking and equestrian trails,” he said.

They could even “hook up Elk and Cheam,” building tent pads in the alpine sections high above Chilliwack.

Other groups are working on similar projects in other areas, like the Chilliwack Trail Society in the Chilliwack River Valley, with plans for 13 trails.

“It’s time for Chilliwack to fulfill its potential as a world-class outdoor destination,” Greidanus concluded.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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