By Steve Hubrecht

Plans are being drawn up for an off-road vehicle (ORV) and multi-use recreation trails stretching mostly on logging roads between Coleman, Alberta and the Columbia Valley.

The plan is the vision of Elkford All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Club president, Tom Kramer, who has been presenting it to various local and regional governments and First Nations. He said so far he’s been getting encouraging feedback.

Earlier this winter, just prior to the Christmas holiday, Kramer appeared as a delegation before Canal Flats council during a village council meeting. Canal Flats councillors were unanimously in their support of the trail network and agreed to write a letter of support for the project.

“What we want to do is make it very inclusive. Yes, I’m a member of the Elkford ATV club, but this isn’t just about off road vehicles. This would be for cyclists, hikers, horseback riders — everybody.” Kramer told the Pioneer. “We want to emphasize that the backcountry can be accessible and that it can be accessed ethically. The idea is to do it right, to have a code of conduct, and to also make it family friendly and safe.”

Kramer repeatedly outlined to the Pioneer his desire to heavily involve local First Nations in the project.

“There will be kiosks and maps along the way, and signs at local landmarks that would highlight the culture and language of Indigenous Peoples, and the significance of the area to them. It’s very important,” he said, adding these interpretive elements would ideally also underscore the conservation and wilderness value of the vast backcountry between Coleman, Elkford and Canal Flats.

The overwhelming majority of the trail network as Kramer sees it would run on existing forest service roads (FSRs) with a few stretches of double track.

Kramer explained that the idea for the project stems from backcountry trips he has done on his quad, pulling a teardrop trailer, in many of the areas that the proposed network would cover.

He pointed out that while some towns in the East Kootenay and nearby parts of Alberta have managed to develop strong local tourism industries, other such communities have not, and their economies are still largely dependent on one or two resources industries. The trail network could bring in some tourist dollars to these towns, he suggested.

Part of the draw of a trail network connecting towns along logging roads is that it would provide a wilderness experience in the backcountry while also offering access to amenities such as food, lodging and vehicle washing and vehicle repair in the towns en route, he said.

The Coleman-Elkford-Canal Flats route is “a fair distance”, noted Kramer, and could be done as an overnight weekend excursion (if trail users are moving quickly), or could be done as week-long trip, with plenty of camping en route (if users want to go slowly), or anything in between.

Kramer pointed to the famous Hatfield-McCoy ATV trail network in West Virginia and other top-notch ORV trail systems in Ontario and Quebec.

“Those are really good trails. If they can have them there, we can do it here in B.C. too,” said Kramer.

In fact, although the initial focus is on Coleman-Elkford-Canal Flats, Kramer has already started talking to officials from Sparwood and Radium, with the goal of eventually creating a longer trail system.

“There’s a multitude of interested parties,” Kramer told the Pioneer, adding he’s so far had expression of support from councils in Elkford, Sparwood, Radium, and now Canal Flats, as well as from the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce and East Kootenay MLA Tom Shypitka. He also added that initial talks with the Ktunaxa Nation Council — which he cautioned are still very preliminary — have gone well.

“We can really do something unique here. It would be amazing to have a trail where you hop on a quad, or a bike, or a horse in Coleman, and can go all the way up to Prince George,” he told the Pioneer.