By Andrea Arnold

The Robson Valley Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of BC have had a busy 2021, building and rehabilitating trails, structure installation at the Dore River trailhead and clearing land for a new rustic equine campground on Belle Mountain.

The largest and newest project the local chapter has taken on is the Belle Rustic Equine campground. Located 3km up the McIntosh logging road about 8km west of McBride. In June just under 2 hectares of land were cleared for 12 campsites, access roads to the sites as well as the kitchen site. In November, they started work on the access roads.

“First and foremost, this is a rustic equine camp with few amenities, but will have corrals, horse water, level sites, and access to trails,” said Chapter president Eileen MacDonald.

Dawn Hickerty, Eileen MacDonald and Arlene Haugen rest after climbing the Belle mountain trail network.

The campground will connect to the 47.2km trail network on Belle Mountain that the local chapter has been developing since 2018.

MacDonald says the recreation site is free and user-maintained, which means users are asked to keep the camp safe, clean and inviting, i.e. pack out all garbage (animal attractants), leave sites and corrals raked and clean of manure (manure bins located within camp), clean outhouses when required, and repair/report as applicable any damage they cause/encounter.

Non-potable water will be available from a central location for animal consumption. Outhouses and manure bins will be constructed and installed when work resumes in 2022. Plans have been started for a central kitchen shelter with picnic tables and a woodstove, and they are awaiting engineered drawings for the open post and beam structure.

She says the building and outhouse will both be built with accessibility in mind. Open kitchen shelters without walls are more versatile, allowing more room for social distancing, or small family groupings at picnic tables, and for events as there is no limitation to a square footage when people have the option to stand outside and still partake (depending on COVID restrictions of course).

There will be one centrally located fire pit, just outside the kitchen shelter.

“This encourages environmentally responsible conservation of wood resources and social interaction, decreases wildfire risk, and importantly it decreases volunteer workload,” said MacDonald.

The communal campfire allows an environment for campers to meet and socialize as they share stories from their adventures.

While the campsite is planned to be free, MacDonald says they encourage users to volunteer, purchasing a BCHBC membership, and/or donate toward campground maintenance to ensure upkeep and continued use.

During visits to other similar sites within BC, MacDonald and other members observed that users tend to be responsible stewards. However, the group will have to re-visit fees, accessibility and other restrictions if damage is caused due to reckless behaviour.

All equine (and non-equine) users should arrive self-sufficient (including having potable water for humans and hay for horses).

She says often visitors to these types of sites travel with self-contained rigs or wall tents with cookstoves, and tables.
“More tables will eventually be available for each site though as they are available to us from Recreation Sites and Trails BC,” she said. “For the first year, however, we will only have tables at the kitchen shelter area.”

Hopefully the campground will be open for use by August 2023. This is a flexible date due to complications caused by supply chain issues brought on by the COVID pandemic. Visitors will be limited to a 14-day stay, similar to other BC rec sites.

The surrounding trails are not only for equine use. They are open and available all year round for hiking, snowshoeing as well as non-groomed cross-country skiing.

“We have connected trails from the trailhead at Dore River with trails all the way to the top of Belle Mountain,” said MacDonald. “There is potential for more trails in the future.”

At the Dore River trailhead, they installed a new outhouse and information kiosk. A large map of the trails will be posted on information kiosk and at the Belle Mountain trailhead next spring. Smaller maps will be placed at junctions throughout the network. Maps will also be downloadable on mobile phone and accessed from the Horse Council BC website.

The Robson Valley horsemen have also installed signage indicating that the trails are for non-motorized traffic only, as they are not built to withstand motorized use. Quads have damaged the trails over the last three years, causing yearly repairs.

“A motorized recreation group would be an asset to the valley as collaboration and resource sharing on appropriate projects is needed and would be welcome,” said MacDonald.

“Belle Mountain is now a multi-season recreation destination as this project has extended the recreation season and opportunities to year-round,” said MacDonald.

The members of the Robson Valley Chapter worked alongside other rec groups to see continued access to trails on public land.

“We have worked with the McBride Mountain Bike Club in the development of a multi-use trail on McBride Mountain and do annual clearing of the Berg Lake trail, Swift Current Creek Trail (collaborative effort with other recreation groups) and Teare Mountain Horse trail,” said MacDonald. “When resources and time permit we endeavor to clear the Moose River Route in Mount Robson Park and the Blueberry Lakes trail access from the Holmes River.”

The Chapter also partners with Robson Park, and the Great Divide Trail Association on larger multi-day backcountry projects along the Great Divide in Robson Park.

They appreciate all the support, advocacy, and advice they received from local and regional government agencies, individuals, organizations, clubs, First Nations and Belle Mountain land users.

“We also are very thankful for the support received from local contractors who volunteered considerable personal time and effort readily helping and advising us with information and details required for completion of the various grant applications and required licences The level of details provided was instrumental in our success in obtaining approvals, licences, and grants,” said MacDonald. “The project would not have gotten off the ground without this incredible show of local community.

The 47.2km of trails on Belle Moutain that have been cleared and maintained by the Back Country Horsemen along with the other user groups in the area, have been carefully mapped out. Maps will be posted at trailheads and at junctions along the route.