Moose River Project - Robson Valley Chapter
Story by Birgit Stutz, originally published in The Valley Sentinel
The Great Divide Trail (GDT) is a wilderness trail in the Canadian Rockies, which closely follows the Continental Divide between Alberta and British Columbia, crossing the divide no fewer than 30 times. It begins in Waterton Lakes National Park at the Canada-US border (where it connects with the Continental Divide Trail which extends from the Mexican border to the Canadian border) and ends 1,200 kilometres to the north in Kakwa Provincial Park.Every year, horse back riders and hikers from around the world travel through the mountains on the Great Divide Trail behind the Robson Valley highway corridor.
“Fires made travel very difficult through a large section of the trail within Robson Park, so travellers were challenged navigating their way with downed burned timber -like a logger’s version of ‘pick-up-sticks’-, boggy muskeg, and river crossings when the trail was elusive and impassable from bog, muskeg, or blow-down on either the east or west side of the Moose River,” explained Eileen MacDonald, Chair of the Robson Valley Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of BC (BCHBC).
“Members of the Robson Valley Chapter have been clearing sections of the trail annually, and last year we put in a bridge and some corduroy. Due to the magnitude of the blow-down though, the work done had only been minimal as needed to allow travel and not a thorough planned effort to open up the old trail. Each year we encounter travellers on the trail who express concern with the condition of the trail or who have posted their concerns on their blogs. They often voice appreciation for the work that the BCHBC members have done over the years.”
“The Robson Valley Chapter of the BCHBC has been volunteering in Mount Robson Park for several years, mainly in the Swift-Current Creek area and the Moose River route,” confirmed Hugo Mulyk, Area Supervisor, Mount Robson Area, BC Parks, Northern Region.
“The Moose River section in question was subject to a wildfire in 2004. There had been many discussions on how to best tackle the windfall and regeneration issues that developed on the section which was very difficult to access to perform the type of brushing and clearing that it really needed, mainly due to its remote location, about a two-day hike from the access at the Moose River trailhead.”
Hugo Mulyk said work had been performed as opportunities occurred, which were infrequent, and so the trail was becoming more overgrown and harder to find in places. “We had discussed potential funding costs and had planned to access the Mount Robson Park Enhancement Fund for ‘seed money’ to help cover the expenses of the project such as supplies and transportation.”
Summer 2016, the Robson Valley Chapter of BCHBC, Mount Robson Provincial Park staff, as well as the Great Divide Trail Association pooled resources and manpower to work on the GDT for a week from August 12 to 20. Eileen MacDonald, Brian Wallace, Lester and Jane Blouin, and Ed and Carolyn Duchoslav, all members of the Robson Valley Chapter of BCHBC, eleven horse, and two rangers from Mount Robson Park travelled ahead to set up camp and ferry supplies, then three days later helicopters brought in the remaining crew of volunteers and equipment.
“The mountains were abuzz with chainsaws, brushers and volunteer energy,” said MacDonald. "We were very happy for a more concentrated effort this year and wow did we get lots done and built partnerships that are going to grow. Fourteen kilometres of the trail between the Jasper National Park boundary at Colonel Pass through to the Upright Creek section on the Moose River was brushed, cleared and marked, and the old trail was found and opened up on the east side of the Moose River, thus eliminating two river crossings and providing drier tread for the travellers. We met hikers and horse groups as we were working and they expressed surprise and considerable appreciation for this incredible volunteer effort.”
Mulyk was involved in the project from creation to completion with help from Park Ranger Jesse Milner, who provided considerable on-site expertise during the duration of the project. “We also had some invaluable assistance provided by Park Ranger Marshall Dempster with getting gear and supplies to the site,” said Mulyk.
“Each of the volunteer groups helped immensely with sorting through the logistics and provided skills, tools and equipment that were crucial to the success of the project. Tools such as brush saws, chainsaws and other hand-tools and as well as safety equipment and all the necessities to have a comfortable camp. The advantage of having horses during the project to be able to pack gear and equipment helped us to achieve far more than we would have been able to otherwise if we would have had to carry everything on our backs. Yellowhead Helicopters was also used to move a few of the volunteers who were not part of the BCHBC, equipment and supplies to and from the project location, and it proved to be a very effective use of our resources.”
Dave Hockey, president of the GDTA, who spent five days working on the trail along with two other members of the association, Trevor Willson and Paul Wheaton, said the tri-lateral partnership was a big win-win for everybody. “We always try to work with partners as much as possible,” he said, adding that Brad Vaillancourt, a GDTA board member, was a key player in helping co-ordinate the project. Hockey said the GDT is about 60% in the national and provincial park system, the other 40% are outside of the park network, where the association does most of its work.
“I believe we could replicate that type of collaboration through the national park system, so why is that not happening? What is the reluctance? Parks has limited funding, we have the manpower and the funding; we just need permission.”
Hockey said it was a great trip and he thoroughly enjoyed working with the horse group. He was also pleased to see the gratitude of hikers when they realized they wouldn’t have to bushwhack. “We also met one of the horse outfitters up there. He was almost out of chainsaw fuel, he’d been doing so much trail clearing. It was our last day, so we gave him our left-over fuel.” According to Mulyk, not counting the participation of park rangers and others, there were well over 500 hours committed to this project by the volunteers of the two organizations. “The spirit of co-operation was always clearly evident with the organizers and participants".
“The outcome of this project showed clearly to all the success possible with these types of collaborations. What was particularly nice was the number of positive comments we received from hikers and horse parties using the trail while we were there. Having been involved with overseeing and participating in various volunteer projects representing BC Parks at Mount Robson for over 20 years, I am constantly amazed by the camaraderie that develops and the accomplishments of these groups of keen, dedicated individuals. I look forward to future collaborations.”
“The collaborative partnership between user groups was a very efficient use of resources, and the shared camp environment provided a relaxed venue for building relationship and sharing of ideas and expertise around the campfire,” added MacDonald. “This success story would not have been possible without the vision, commitment and leadership from Mount Robson Provincial Park, Back Country Horsemen of BC, and the Great Divide Trail Association. All three organizations expressed an interest in continuing to pool efforts into the future with the goal of safe and enjoyable travel through the very scenic Robson Valley section of the GDT.”