TRAIL TURFED  The popular hiking trail at the bottom of the Mt. Swansea ridgeline has been decommissioned in favour of a winding trail with a very easy grade. Photo by Nicole Trigg

TRAIL TURFED The popular hiking trail at the bottom of the Mt. Swansea ridgeline has been decommissioned in favour of a winding trail with a very easy grade. Photo by Nicole Trigg

By Steve Hubrecht

Pioneer Staff

With considerable progress in recent months, work on upgrades to the Mt. Swansea trail is almost complete. Those vounteers involved are calling the project a big success. The changes, however, have upset some hikers, with complaints centred around sections of the old trail being decommissioned.

There are few easily-accessible challenging hiking trails and this one (the old hiking route up Swansea) was one of the best. I find it really sad that it has to be decommissioned. I dont see why the old trail and new trail cant co-exist, said frequent Swansea hiker Dallas Husar.

As a fairly regular user of the hiking trail at Swansea, I was shocked to see the new shared trail a few weeks ago on the lower portion. To my recollection, there was no public consultation before the work commenced, and now theres a trail in place that really caters to one particular user group, said hiker Lindsay McPherson. Theres no signage at the beginning of the trail explaining the recent work. The old trail has been destroyed, but if this is part of a larger rehabilitation and erosion prevention plan, you would have no idea because it looks pretty bad right now.

Ms. McPherson added that she feels hikers are potentially at risk from downhill cyclists on the trail.

According to Columbia Valley Cycling Society director David Lammerse, the new trail is a multi-use trail catering to all user groups, not just cyclists, and was a collaborative effort by the Ministry of Forests Land and Natural Resource Operations Recreation Trail and Sites B.C., the Columbia Valley Cycling Society, the Summit Trail Makers Society, the Invermere trail running club and the Hang Gliding and Para Gliding Association of Canada.

Essentially the trail is a compromise. We left some places straight that cyclist wanted to change because we know thats what hikers wanted in those spots. We tried to reduce the number of switchbacks and make it a reasonable hiking trail. It is pretty hard to please absolutely everybody. Some hikers and runners love it, others dont. Some cyclists love it, others dont, he said.

Mr. Lammerse added that downhill bikers shouldnt pose a risk since the trail is meant to be only ridden up by cyclists, and that signs and a few other minor details, which could not be completed this fall, will be done soon.

Its totally incorrect to say theres been no consultation. Theres quite a bit thats occurred with different stakeholder groups and various levels of government and it was a lengthy process, said Mr. Lammerse.

Proposals for the trial work went through referral processes in 2007 and 2012, which involved consulting with stakeholder groups, other affected agencies and First Nations groups, said local Recreation Sites and Trail B.C. recreation officer Aina Cernenoks.

The improvements have always been to provide more sustainable routes. Trails that go straight up are not sustainable and some of the old trails were built without authority, had poor layout and would not have stood the test of time, said Ms. Cernenoks. The rerouting was done to provide a sustainable grade, to eliminate the problems we had with erosion, and to minimize, as much as possible, the distance the trail goes through the provincially designated wildlife habitat area (meant to protect flammulated owls and bighorn sheep, among other species).

All the stakeholder groups as well as a goverment wildlife biologist were involved in the layout of the re-routing, and hikers and trail runners voiced input through the Summit Trail Makers Society and the Invermere trail running club, she said.

Were finding the middle ground. Change is hard for some people to accept. If people are unhappy, they should join one of these clubs and join in the planning.

The trail work involved scarifying, rehabilitating and re-seeding some sections of the old trail, and both Ms. Cernenoks and Mr. Lammerse are asking the public to please respect the new trail route.

If people just walk wherever they want, soon theyll recreate what was already there, which was, in places, a badly eroded slope, said Mr. Lammerse.

Future work may include short spur trails (off the main trail) to scenic viewpoints constructed by the Summit Trail Makers Society, as well as an easy downhill bike trail to help eliminate the temptation of intermediate and novice bikers to ride down the main trail. The project received roughly $100,000 in federal funding.