Many hands may make light work, but there is nothing easy about trailbuilding.
It’s dirty, sweaty work. It can even be a little bit dangerous.
So, when more than two dozen people recently showed up at the Chilliwack Community Forest to blaze a new trail through the dense vegetation, there were big, grateful smiles all around. The group included trailbuilding organizers, project partners, student workers, volunteers, and even a film crew.
The trail being built at the eastern hillside park is a new skills area for mountain bikers of all levels, explains Penny Deck, operations manager for the Fraser Valley Mountain Biking Association. She was among the leaders, working to mark out the new trail with flagging tape, and helping the workers cut away at ferns, hack away at fallen trees and otherwise clear the way for the trail.
It’s backbreaking work, but rewarding, Deck says. And she’s been working with the youth all over the park this summer to keep the trails maintained.
One of the workers is 17-year-old Lloyd Laroche. He started working on trailbuilding two years ago as a student at the Education Centre. When he was approached by the Chilliwack Park Society’s director, Marc Greidanus, to join the Summer Trail Crew, he jumped at the chance.
“I volunteered here when it was still being built,” Laroche says, watching in amazement as the parking lot filled with more and more people coming out to help. While Laroche and the rest of the hired crew are out there every day, the volunteers have come from Memiyelhtel, a youth program through Stó:lō. That group is working on trails once a week throughout August, and on this day, they’ve come ready to work hard.
One of them is Laroche’s 13-year-old brother, Tyson, who spent much of the afternoon working on clearing the top entrance to the skills area. It’s accessible from the parking lot, close to the bike repair station. Then it carries up and down through the forest before returning riders back out to the parking area.
They break into two groups, meeting in the middle after about an hour of heavy work. It will take a few more work bees to get the trail in shape for bikers. But there are plenty of other places to ride at Chilliwack Community Park, and bikes were brought up for the volunteers to try out. For some youth, it was their first time on a downhill bike.
All of this adds up to showcase the “million strengths” of what’s been happening at the park, says Andrea Dykshoorn, a United Way Community Engagement Specialist. She was looped into the program through connections made in another United Way program, and learned of how the Chilliwack Community Forest came to be.
United Way looks at strengths in a community, she said, and hit pay dirt with the trailbuilding program. Not only is the program creating valuable infrastructure for the community, but it’s lifting vulnerable youth, partnering them with organizations focused on healthy activities, and even bringing in community elders.
And the timing, in the midst of a health pandemic that has kept people isolated and indoors more, couldn’t be more perfect. Dykshoorn excels at grant writing and was able to secure extra funding for the Summer Trail Crew’s work.
“People are lonely and isolated,” she says, adding that loneliness was a serious public health concern even before COVID-19 altered lives. The grant is for overdose prevention, but some funding also came from the Canada Summer Jobs Grant.
Greidanus said the partnership with United Way has allowed the Chilliwack Park Society and the FVMBA to really focus on the trail work rather than paper work.
But for Dykshoorn, getting away from the desk and out onto the trails with the work crews has also been a fun experience.
“I’m learning so much from these kids,” she said.
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