May 31, 2014, over 80 people found their way into a room at the Kingfisher resort in Courtney, BC. They were there for the first of an event that Vancouver Island had never seen before, the Vancouver Island Trails Network Conference hosted by VISTA.
What was this Trails Network Conference for?
The Vancouver Island Trails Network Conference was put together to kickstart the networking and community building between members of any and all groups on Vancouver Island that want to help build of the Vancouver Island Spine Trail and related trails. That’s a mouthful. Basically the organizers wanted to bring everyone together and talk about trails on Vancouver Island, and a bit more specifically, the Spine Trail.
Who is VISTA?
The focus of the conference always came back around to the Spine Trail, the soon-to-be baby of the Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association, who are based out of Victoria. The association was started by Gil Parker and is currently chaired by Andrew Pape-Salmon with the sole purpose of bringing to Spine Trail to life. One side-project within that goal has been to connect communities, adventurers and trail builders across the island. A 700km trail does not exist in isolation, it will require a huge amount of volunteer work to be completed and will connect communities that have stood separate for ages.
What was the conference about?
The main goal of the conference was to bring together trail builders, sport and hiking groups, communities, government members and leaders from other organizations and get them talking, to start the conversation around the Spine Trail.“How do we build a 700km trail?”“What can we learn from other large trail projects across the province and Canada?”“Instead of a struggling pet project, inching it’s way up the island, how can we make this a resounding success?”The conversation has obviously already started as the association as existed for years now and the south end of the trail is nearly complete.
Who was there?
Speaking at the conference were all sorts of folks from mayors and government employees to trail builders and hikers.Trisha Kaplan is the Trail Development Manager for Western and Northern Canada for the Trans Canada Trail. Building a trail across Canada is no easy feat and she had lots to say about the issues they’ve encountered while building the TCT. One highlight was how different every region and province were in what they thought would benefit them most. Communities in the rockies who like to hike and run are not the same as communities in the prairies that like to snowmobile.
Philip Stone is an adventurer and guidebook writer from Vancouver Island. He’s written great books like Island Alpine and Quadra Climbing. He’s been hiking, climbing, kayaking and sailing in the most remote regions of Vancouver Island for the last 25 years. Few know the backcountry here like Philip. He spoke to the challenge of running a trail through the middle of the island and also some history behind the spine or “backbone” idea of the trail.
Ken Melamed was the mayor of Whistler during the Olympics. He talked about the success of their trail system and the economic benefits it brought to his City.
Other names rounded out the list and provided interesting stories related to trails.
Amanda Ridgeway is a director of the Mountain Bike Tourism Association in Cumberland. She calls herself an “amenity migrant”, meaning she moves from place to place because of the amenities there. For her it’s always been the mountain bike trails. She’s moved from Australia to England to Fernie and finally to Cumberland in search of good trails. Many people are doing this these days. Trails can be a huge attraction for people of any ages looking for fun activities where they are going to live.
John Hawkings is the Manager of trails with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources. He talked about provisions in sections 56 and 57 of the Forest and Range Practices Act. Section 56 deals with the establishment of public trails and 57 with the legal authority for them. Having section 56 status means that the Province provides public liability insurance.
What’s going to happen next, going forward?
By the end of the day there was a buzz in the crowd with excitement about new trails on Vancouver Island. There was also some skepticism as well. Other groups have tried in the past to bring groups together only to fade away.
The crew from VISTA committed to keeping in touch with email newsletters about new developments and to arrange for another conference in about 2 years time.I thought the conference went extremely well and brought together some great voices that can put a serious dent in the work that’s left on the Spine Trail as well as all the other trails on the island. No trails are built or maintained without good people and lots of sweat.
How do you connect and help VISTA with the trail?
If you want to know more about the Vancouver Island Trail Association and the Spine Trail and keep in touch, visit their website at http://www.vi-trail.ca.