It’s one of the warmest, sunniest days Fernie has seen this spring, and an excavator is busy working on a wide, gravel trail surrounded by forest. This section is part of a new eight-kilometre, half-inclusive/half-adaptive loop constructed last year, and the goal is to have it in tip-top shape so even more people—of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities—can get fresh air, get exercise and enjoy the stunning mountainside views.
“It’s a gorgeous property, directly across from the Fernie ski hill,” says project manager Patrick Gilmar with the Fernie Trail Alliance, which spearheaded the project. “You stare right at the ski area and the Lizard Range. It’s absolutely fabulous. People just love it.”
Now, with Trust support, the variety of people who can take part in this experience has increased exponentially. Users of the trail—located minutes from Fernie on the Montane property—now includes people in wheelchairs, athletes on adaptive mountain bikes, families with strollers and more.
The first four kilometres of the trail are “inclusive,” meaning they’re carefully designed—wide, gravelled, with minimum grades—so that all people can access the backcountry, irrespective of ability. The trail starts at Montane Barn on Coal Creek and rises 100 vertical metres to the Montane Hut.
“It’s a nicely surfaced, wheelchair-accessible trail,” says Gilmar. But he’s also quick to note: “It’s still a trail on a mountainside, not a ‘pathway.’”
While one section isn’t quite finished—Gilmar anticipates fall 2019—users can either take a detour or park at the beginning of kilometre two and start the trail from there.
To return from the hut, users can retrace their steps or—if they’re more adventurous—complete the loop on the four-kilometre “adaptive” section. Built on existing ski trails managed by the Fernie Trails and Ski Touring Club, this section is also wide and gravelled but offers a few steeper spots. These make it slightly more challenging but still accessible to a range of people.
“I would say it’s been a very successful project,” says Gilmar. “I’ve seen huge family use. Young kids—four-year-olds—on bicycles, smiling because they can get up to the hut. It’s an incredible destination. I’ve also seen more seniors hiking the trail.”
The numbers support his observations. Using automatic trail counters, the Alliance used to claim its most popular trail was across the valley on Ridgemont—up to 25,000 hits a year. And then last year the Montane area had 40,000 hits. “We outdid our best trail area,” says Gilmar. “So, it’s huge. Absolutely huge.”
The trail also had a bonus: it was easy to groom over the winter. From snowshoers to dog walkers to snow-bikers, hundreds of people used it every week.
Impacts like these are why the Trust supports trail and recreation projects around the region, helping more people to get active. Including this project, the Trust’s Recreation Infrastructure Grants provided $9.4 million to 153 projects and the Trail Enhancement Grants have so far supported 29 trail rehabilitation, enhancement or development projects with $484,000. Plus, the Trust is helping improve remote recreation sites and local trails through a new $1.5-million partnership with Recreation Sites and Trails BC that will hire summer students to help trails groups with their maintenance.
As for the Montane loop, it should be finished by summer 2020, including a new parking area, a kiosk and signage—and maybe even an accessible hut and washroom.
The improvements “will continue on for several more years, until this is an absolutely superb project that other communities will be jealous of,” says Gilmar. “I’m incredibly proud of what’s been accomplished here.”