From The Canyons are Calling - A series of short stories about the Fraser Canyon Region in British Columbia, Canada.
I often walk on amazing trails and become absorbed in the environment. Sometimes I quickly march and sometimes it’s a slow meander with moments of introspection; being in awe of giant trees and waterfalls, followed by close inspection of ferns, moss, and tiny lichen…Then delight at a viewpoint or an unexpected glimpse of a lake or water feature.
It wasn’t until my recent experience photographing a trail building crew in Hope, BC that reminded me and renewed my appreciation of the work and dedication that goes into creating and maintaining these trails I enjoy so much.
In my youth, I worked on a trail building crew. I recall long days, heavy lifting, and being dirty. Most of all, I remember we had to bring water-filled fire extinguishers because the region was experiencing a horrendous forest fire season. Even a spark from a pickaxe could easily ignite an emergency situation.
During a hike to the top of a mountain, the crew and I could see smoke billowing from a forest fire on another range. From far above, it looked like a hellish campfire plume with smoke settled amongst the mountain ranges creating a macabre beauty.
It certainly brought to attention and served as a valuable lesson in the fragility of the environment. An ever-important reminder of the potentiality of forest fires and to tread carefully.
During my recent experience with the Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning, forest fires were thankfully not a consideration as the ground was wet creating an ethereal mist throughout the trees. This time around my focus was turned towards the individuals behind the trail building, and capturing the immense effort they put in day after day for months to create places for us to enjoy – all without a second thought to recognition for their personal and collective contributions.
Jerome, a professional trail builder originally from Quebec, had been working on the trail since last summer. From his presence, you could tell that this person was not afraid of a hard day’s work. The particular part of the trail he was working on was a rock staircase that had taken a whole four days to build. He had a chainsaw, come-along, pickaxe, shovel, and many other essential tools at the ready. He would set to his task moving one rock at a time, walking up and down an area, thinking and considering how a hiker would navigate the path. He would question how a person might naturally step.
“Would this stone be too high? Would someone intuitively navigate the trail in this particular way?”
Although some flora and forest floor disruption cannot be avoided during the building process, the trail’s overall objective is to encourage enjoyment of our natural environment with minimal impact. His placement of each stone was examined then double-checked. I photographed him intently as he went about his craft with such deft and might.
Volunteers Verena and Nate, were higher up at another location on the trail, assisting the organizer from Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning, Kelly Pearce, build a platform. This was so that they could install signage on posts directing hikers around the loop at an important junction. To do this they had carried multiple four by four posts from the bottom of the trail. A challenging enough task on flatland, let alone on a steep, rocky incline. I was amazed at their fortitude as it took me much effort to carry just myself and very low weighted camera equipment. Kelly explained to the crew that hikers would naturally stop here to discuss the route going forward and that it was important to build a platform for people to comfortably and safely gather on.
The thought, consideration, and effort by volunteers and organizers had me thinking about the many paths I have traveled over the years without fully realizing the dedication, knowledge, labour, and expertise that had gone into all of those trails by volunteers just like them.
One of the routes recently refurbished with help from the Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning is the Tikwalus trail near Yale, BC. A historical and scenic route; for thousands of years the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) First Nations people used portions of this trail and it was briefly shared with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Fraser Canyon - British Columbia Canada
Hope Center for Outdoor Learning
Lytton Chamber of Commerce