Trail construction put on hold in First Nations communities due to COVID-19

Four projects are scheduled to commence this year at Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, Tsq’escen’, ?Esdilagh and Xat’sull

A mountain bike trail planner and consultant is eager to get to work, but only if he receives the go-ahead from First Nations leaders.

Owner of First Journey Consulting Ltd., Thomas Schoen is hoping to work with four Indigenous communities in and around Williams Lake this summer on projects currently on hold right now due to restrictions around COVID-19.

He said he feels their work would be safe to undertake during the COVID-19 pandemic as they would work in very small groups and any required in-class training will be online.

“By the nature of our work you are spaced out, you’re out in nature and you’re creating healthy communities. A lot of the guys that we hire from within the community they otherwise would just be sitting at home basically so now they get out, they’re doing a healthy activity and it really is low impact.”

Before visitors were restricted from entering First Nations communities due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Schoen said he had planned to start on trail development projects at Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek/Dog Creek) and Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake), which is now dealing with flooding.

Read More: Visitor checkpoints still active at Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation south of Williams Lake

“We really don’t have a set date when we will start but I’m hopeful that by June both of those projects will go ahead,” he said. “We’ve got approval, the funding is in place, it really just depends on the communities for when they want to open it up for outsiders.”

At Stswecem’c Xgat’tem, southwest of Williams Lake, an approximate six-kilometre downhill mountain bike trail starting from above the alpine of Jesmond Mountain will be constructed.

A multi-use eight-kilometer trail at Tsq’escen’ would provide community members an alternative from walking on Tsq’Escen Road and in the winter could be used as a snowshoeing or skiing trail. Schoen said because it is a job creation partnership with Work BC community members will also be trained as trail builders to be able to maintain the trail in the future.

“The Canim Lake Band has always been a real active community. They bought their own mountain bikes, they go running on a regular basis, they bring trainers and teachers in, so they really created the capacity and now they just need trails, he said. “It’s a big project and with the late start we might not be able to complete it in 2020.”

After building a 12-kilometre XC trail last year at ?Esidlagh (Alexandria) which connects two parts of the reserve and provides the community with access to berry picking areas, Schoen said they are hoping to develop another 10 to 12 kilometres of XC trail.

At Xat’sull (Soda Creek) it is hoped within the next two years to have the Deep Creek part of the reserve connected with the Fox Mountain Trail Network.

Read More: Cariboo showcased in poplar German bike magazine

“That vision has been out for a quite a few years to develop this long-term XC trail that connects a few communities and it would tie in really nicely within our existing town network,” Schoen said. “We’ve built a lot of kilometres over the last few years, so the last link now is from the airport to Mountain House Road.”

Once the existing trail sections are connected there will be a continuous trail from the Chief Will-Yum Campsite to the Xat’sull Heritage Village.

Schoen said because there is a lot of private property he is keen to work with stakeholders, and that once the COVID-19 situation improves they want to be able to train Xat’sull band members.

“The last few years we trained them in trail construction and trail maintenance, and now we want to train a couple of select members from the communities to go out with me or some of my experienced foremen on learning how to lay out this trail.”

During the 2017 wildfires Schoen said they were able to move trail building crews to work on other projects in communities which were not being ravaged by wildfires.

“It really is a different situation because now we’re just shut down everywhere.”

Valued at $600,000 to $700,000, the four projects are funded through the B.C. Government and BC Rural Dividend.

“In many cases now the communities that we work with they put a lot of their own money into it,” Schoen added. “That took us almost 10 years to get to that point but the communities are realizing the value of trails and recreational assets.”

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