Working closely with indigenous communities is the way of the future to develop mountain bike trails in the South Cariboo.
That’s the philosophy of Thomas Schoen, co-founder of the Indigenous Youth Mountain Bike Program and Chair of the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium.
Schoen last year developed the Jesmond Mountain Trail near Clinton with the help of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. This year he aims to build upon that relationship as he helps the band develop its own trail plan.
“The Dog Creek and Canoe Creek community was able to attract funding and they hired my company to work with the community all summer long,” Schoen said. “The goal of this big trail master plan is to identify culturally valuable trails and sites.”
By talking with the community’s elders, Schoen hopes to map out all the old trails around the communities that were used for hunting, berry picking and fishing. In tandem with this project, they’ll develop trail options that respect and protect the existing heritage trail system.
Once the plan is complete, Schoen said it will serve as a guide for all future trail development on the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem’s ancestral land. Schoen plans to have the plan completed by 2023 so he can present it to the community and other relevant stakeholders in the area.
“It will become also a shelf-ready funding application. If we want to build trails in that area we don’t have to start the studies, we have a plan that will encompass everything.”
Schoen is currently planning a grand opening for the Jesmond Mountain Trail for this fall. Work on the eight-kilometre long multiuse trail was completed just before the first snowfall. It links up with an existing downhill mountain biking trail completed two years ago.
“It was a 22-week project and we built a designated climbing line. The way the line is built, with a less steep grade, it makes an excellent beginner to intermediate downhill biking trail so now beginners and intermediates can ride this trail up and down,” Schoen said. “It’s absolutely spectacular, the scenery up there is amazing and it’s a beautiful forest.”
Schoen expects the trail will be ready to ride once the last snow melts, likely around mid-May. However, he suspects hikers staying at the Big Bar Guest Ranch will start making use of the trail relatively soon. He noted the mountain biking industry is “buzzing” with interest and activity, although there’s still a shortage of bikes, resulting from the pandemic when more people got into the sport.
The increased interest has boosted momentum and attention in the industry, with more government funding being poured into trail development. New trails have come together in both 99 Mile and on Fox Mountain in Williams Lake.
Looking to the future, Schoen said he’d like to see more destination hiking trails developed across the Cariboo, noting unique trails will help increase tourism in the area. However, he said any trails that are built will need a strong future maintenance plan.
“There is no question new trails are needed. There is a growing demand for trails, especially hiking trails, but building more and more new trails creates issues when it comes to future trail maintenance,” Schoen said. “That absolutely needs to be addressed in the planning stage. We need to know who will maintain these trails and that’s another good partnership opportunity for when we can work with indigenous communities like Dog Creek and Canim Lake.”