‘If you build it [the trails], they will come’

A Peace Valley Snow Rider enjoys the Smith Mills Trail. Photo courtesy of Peace Valley Snow Riders. The Smith Mills Trail is one of four currently in the region.

Peace Valley Snow Riders persevere despite challenges

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Despite expensive damage to trails from past heavy snow, the Peace Valley Snow Riders are riding on.

The club promoting responsible snowmobiling by building scenic trails presented an update at the Peace River & District Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting Nov. 6.

Dwayne Buchholtz gave the keynote presentation.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Peace Valley Snow Riders, who celebrated with an anniversary event in October.

“We’re in a great financial position now, and that hasn’t always been the case,” Buchholtz says.

The club has been supported by generous trail sponsorships from local companies such as Baytex Energy and Canadian Forest Products [CANFOR].

The club has developed four different trails in the region, and plans to eventually have a network of trails on both the east and west sides of the Peace River valley.

The Osmand/Getaway Cabins Leddy Lake Trail is 40 km long and was opened first in 2011. It runs from Leddy Lake to Driftwood Lake out by Deadwood, and has a shelter.

The Baytex Wesley Creek Trail is 35 km and has a community access point in St. Isidore that the club put in with the help of Northern Sunrise County. Buchholtz says it is a short, flat trail, easy to access and good for families with small children. The club plans to make it longer in the near future.

Smith Mills Trail is 60 km and is the longest trail. It opened in 2017 and travels west from Figure 8 Lake north of Grimshaw to Stony Lake area north of Hines Creek.

“Personally this is my favourite trail, it’s nice and long but lots of varied terrain, and of course you just can’t beat the length of the ride,” Buchholtz says.

The CANFOR Hines Creek Trail is the most recently opened trail, and runs from the village of Hines Creek and connects with the Smith Mills trail in the Stony Lake area. In conjunction with the Smith Mills trail it makes for a 100-km ride.

Although the loss of the permission of a landowner after a land sale prevented building more of the Hines Creek trail for some time, Buchholtz says the club has now identified an alternate route including crossing a highway, and is now starting development of more trail in hopes it will be ready for this winter.

All the trails feature a fire pit, picnic table, outhouse, and a wood shed, and are developed to a “semi-developed” provincial standard which means they are five metres wide and occasionally groomed.

Despite what Buchholtz says were “very serious conversations” after a heavy May snow that forced the club to spend many volunteer hours and tens of thousands of dollars on slashing to clear downed trees on its trails, the club has largely recovered.

Buchholtz says there is often a negative perception of snowmobilers, and his club promotes proper operation of snowmobiles and shows due diligence in order to earn the trust of local stakeholders.

“We believe that our club is part of the solution,” Buchholtz says.

“That solution is promoting a motorized sport that leaves a minimal footprint. We all know about the sensitivity of our river hills, we know that we have a lot of wetlands, however, we operate on frozen ground and with snowcover, so very minimal footprint.”

Buchholtz says promoting the development of a trail network that directs snowmobile traffic to areas of acceptable use has been easier said than done, but has been positive overall.

“Since we’ve got this started, landowners have commented about the reduction of trespass, and of course we keep using that to reinforce to snowmobilers that the time has come to do things a little differently.”

Promoting responsible and safe operation of off-highway vehicles is extremely important to the club, Buchholtz says.

“Sightseeing close to home on a managed trail is quickly becoming the preferred pastime for thousands of environmentally conscious snowmobile enthusiasts across Alberta,” according to the document “The Economic Impact of Snowmobiles in Alberta in 2009,” submitted to Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation in 2011 and quoted by Buchholtz.

“If you build it they will come,” Buchholtz says.

Anyone interested in joining the Peace Valley Snow Riders can visit any local snowmobile dealership and purchase a trail pass for $80.

The chamber has several major upcoming events including the annual Passport to Christmas running until Dec. 13, Moonlight Madness and the Santa Claus Parade on Nov. 29, and the nominations for the Davis Awards for local businesses which are open until Jan. 3, 2020.

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