After six years of planning, fundraising, building, the Markin-MacPhail Westside Legacy Trail (WLT) officially has opened. The multi-recreational, human-powered trail is now paved the 25 km distance from Invermere to Fairmont Hot Springs on the west side of Lake Windermere.

The grand opening ceremony was on Friday the 18th with the “Last Spoke” sculpture unveiling done through a Facebook live stream. The installation was meticulously sourced and crafted over the course of a year by Casja Fredin, co-owner of Black Star Studios and CV Arts’ new Executive Director. “I feel very honoured to have been chosen to do this piece,” said Fredin. Before the sculpture’s unveiling, a blessing was given by Mike Archie, the Language and Cultural Advisor for the Shuswap Indian Band. “It was about creating doors for people to safely use this area alongside our abundant wildlife.”

On Saturday, the public was invited to walk, bike, run the trail as photographers, and drone flyovers captured the action. “It is thanks to everyone who helped make this trail a reality,” said Lianne Lang, Project Manager. To complete the project, in-kind support and cash donations totalled over $9.6 million with 42% of that support from the private sector.

“We are tremendously grateful to the over 1,100 donors, all three levels of government, and grantors for their incredible support.” said Bob Shaunessy, Chair of the Fundraising Committee. “After six years of tremendous effort and dedication by our large volunteer base, this is fantastic to see the entire trail finally paved. Creating and helping to build the trail has been challenging but also incredibly personally rewarding.” Shaunessy, with pride, looked at the sculpture after its unveiling. “I think I may have a sleep over here tonight,” he said, laughing.

The WLT is one of several initiatives from the Columbia Valley Greenways Trail Alliance, a trails advocacy group made up of seven local trail and stewardship groups, including Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club, Panorama Mountain Resort, Nipika Mountain Resort, and Village of Canal Flats. Other projects completed by Greenways include the Cross River Adaptive Trails Project at Nipika Mountain Resort, the James Chabot Dragonfly Boardwalk at James Chabot Provincial Park, and the Old Coach Trail that runs between Radium Hot Springs and Dry Gulch. Since June, over thirty-thousand people have used the trail, ten thousand more than last year.

The WLT is Greenways’ largest project completed to date. “We are really proud of this initiative that will help our economy, tourism, and add significant recreational opportunities for our community,” said Lyle Wilson, Greenways’ Chair of the Board of Directors. Crucial to the project was the RDEK agreeing to maintain the pathway after its completion. The RDEK also adopted the path into its regional park system. “It’s an iconic trail,” said Susan Clovechok, RDEK’s Area F Director. Invermere Mayor Al Miller spoke about what the trail represented. “We’re in a new era of active transportation. People desire to get out of their vehicles and exercise, it’s a real paradigm shift.”

Just when the crowd gathered thought the final applause was… final, Wilson said he had one more thing to say. That’s when he announced the work and planning already underway to connect Radium with a similar trail. “We’re not done yet!” said Wilson. “With this great momentum, quietly, we’ve been in planning with stakeholders to connect this trail to the Old Coach Trail to downtown Radium.”

Mark Halwa, Greenways’ former Executive Director, recalls the project’s origins. “Back in 2012, Steve Ostrander and I were riding down in Colorado on a paved path connecting Breckenridge to Frisco and I told Steve we should do a trail like this back home.” Ostrander, a local biking enthusiast, thought his riding partner was off the rocker. “I told him it was his craziest idea yet!”

Upon their return home, Halwa’s crusade began. “Looking back on the valley trail concept before there was a name, start or endpoints (preliminary work began on a trail between Radium and Invermere), some excellent advice was provided by another B.C. community: ‘the project is not the building of a trail, but the creation of relationships.’ Since then, thousands of people have heard about it, worked on building it, volunteered time to advance the project, donated money and talents.”

Eventually, it was determined the trail would connect Invermere and Fairmont rather than Radium. “And then a trip was made to the RDEK to discuss the project which led to some pointed questions like ‘where exactly will the trail be?’; ‘have all the landowners agreed?’; ‘where will the money come from?’; ‘who will maintain it upon completion?’” To the slight embarrassment of Halwa and his team, they had no definite answers to those questions. “But the trail worked its way through the council agendas of Radium, the DOI, Canal Flats and the RDEK,” said Halwa.

From there, the proposed trail had to be approved provincially to assure landowners their donation of property access would be taken care of. Consensus was needed from each landowner whose land the trail would eventually cross. “Coffee fuelled conversations were as diverse as the group,” said Halwa. “These discussions led to numerous trail use discussions and re-routes before everyone agreed to every single clause of one legal document.” Upon signing, the landowners became land donors. “Without anyone ever asking for money,” said Halwa.

It wasn’t long before donations began to arrive in six figure sums. “Fundraising really took off when Premier Christy Clark arrived with the first million dollar grant,” said Halwa. Several large donations followed, including a $500,000 donation from the Markin and MacPhail

But it was the unique, unexpected kinds of donations that really raised the profile of the project. “When a teacher called to volunteer her class to host a spelling bee fundraiser, the idea raised eyebrows over what the kids were capable of,” said Halwa. “[The kids] promptly returned with over $8,000 which led to numerous events from K-12 and brought all the kids from Canal Flats to Edgewater into the mix.” To Greenways, the lesson learned was that no one raises funds in a nicer way than cute little kids. “Their effort caught the attention of Canadian funnyman Rick Mercer, and he created a video which propelled the social media campaign to new heights,” said Halwa.

Now the trail is paved from end to end. Halwa points out that the onset of the COVID pandemic highlights how important outdoor public spaces are. “I hope everyone who became involved is glad they did. All that’s left is to enjoy this beautiful outdoor space together. Along the way, make a point of greeting someone new so you can say: I met so and so on the Westside Legacy Trail.”

For Greenways, that will be when the trail gives back everything that went into its creation.