Terry Fox Trail logging: protest spurs questions about trail use

By: Laura Keil

If you’re old enough to remember Terry Fox and his journey across Canada on an artificial leg to raise money for cancer research, you might also remember his passion.

Each day he tried to run a marathon – 42km. While his journey across Canada was never completed (he had to stop near Thunder Bay when the cancer spread to his lungs), he inspired people around the world.

He continues to be a household name in many countries. Dozens of statues, roads and buildings have been named in his honour, including a park, mountain and trail just north of Valemount.

Now a local environmental group is ringing the alarm about what they see as careless attention and disregard for the trail named after Terry Fox.

Barb Zimmer, vice-president of the Fraser Headwaters Alliance, says she was surprised and disheartened that the Valemount Community Forest logged the first 150m or so of the Terry Fox Trail, and there didn’t seem to be any discussion.

While all logging debris has now been cleared away, and the trail is in good condition, Zimmer says it’s the logging itself that’s the problem.

“You get to the big forestry sign and it says “Terry, your legacy lives on,” or something like that, and then you walk into a big clear-cut.”

She says the Alliance fought against logging over the entire Terry Fox Trail maybe 15 years ago, when it was in someone else’s forest license.

She says speaking out is the only way they see to prevent further logging. Her group doesn’t think the way the logging was done shows respect for the trail or for recreational uses.

“There’s a lot of money and time and effort that goes into making a trail. What’s the point when they log it over 10 years later?” she says. “It was also done by our community forest which is supposed to consider community values a little more than that.”

Looking northwest from the trail at some of the area that was logged between the spring of 2013 and 2014.
Looking northwest from the trail at some of the area that was logged between the spring of 2013 and 2014.

Craig Pryor, Manager of the Valemount Community Forest, says logging in the block encompassing the Terry Fox trailhead area began in spring 2013. They consulted with the Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association (YORA), the local rec group with the contract to manage the trail, about six months ago and possibly earlier, before Pryor became manager.

Pryor says they have “semi-regular meetings” with YORA and VARDA regarding their harvest plans. The entire Terry Fox Trail falls within the Community Forest Tenure.

“We discussed the Mt Terry Fox trail roughly 6 months ago and its value as a trail and its difficulties. The VCF holds much value in our trail systems and will do our part to see that they are maintained and healthy,” Pryor wrote to the Goat in an email.

He says the community forest was targeting infected pine and Douglas Fir and the stand had armillaria root rot. He says their decision to harvest all the Pine and mature Douglas Fir was due to the fact the root rot would have likely killed any remaining trees. He says they left parts of the block with 15-20 foot healthy trees and will plant the block next year with a mix of Pine, Douglas Fir and Spruce.

Pryor says they also did some improvements to the road due to the logging, which will help recreational users access the trailhead.

Patricia Thoni, YORA member, says the recreation group has a committee that meets with the community forest to discuss harvest plans and recreation goals, and they have a good relationship.

Thoni says the logging at the trailhead doesn’t impinge on her experience of the trail. She says the community forest left the trail in good condition without any logging debris. The clear cut even opened up a view to the valley.

Thoni agrees with Zimmer that the trail should have a higher profile and more use. Part of the problem is the difficulty in getting to the summit and monument.

“It’s a slog,”

“It’s a slog,” she says, noting the hike takes at least 12 hours to do the round-trip if you take a couple breaks. She says even Terry Fox’s brother couldn’t make it to the top. The long distance may be deterring people from using the trail, but YORA doesn’t have a trailcounter there to track users.

YORA President Patricia Thoni points to where the trail leads to the summit and monument. The trail length is "a slog" she says.
YORA President Patricia Thoni points to where the trail leads to the summit and monument. Reaching the summit is “a slog” she says.

Zimmer says getting to the top doesn’t have to be the only goal.

“People don’t have to hike to the top of the mountain to say, ‘Hey I hiked part of the Terry Fox Trail, and it was cool.’”

She says there are beautiful flower meadows in the lower section. If Valemount set out to improve the trail, she suggests maybe someone could get funding from the Terry Fox Foundation.

But even Zimmer admits the trail doesn’t have a payoff until quite high up.

“You don’t get a view until you’re at the end of the 17th switchback, and it’s 2300 feet in elevation gain to get there.”

For experienced hikers, the payoff is great: a stone monument sits on a high ridge, and climbers who reach the summit may get a stunning view of Mt. Robson on a clear day.

Thoni says she was hoping YORA could work with the Community Forest to design a higher trailhead. The lower trailhead would remain, but the Community Forest could potentially harmonize their harvest plans with the rec group to build a new road higher up, eliminating 300-600ft of elevation.

“Even though I’m one of the people who can hike the whole trail, I’d support a higher trailhead just so more people can enjoy the trail,” Thoni says.

Thoni agrees with Zimmer that Valemount should value and celebrate the trail within Mt. Terry Fox Provincial Park. She is starting to organize events for Terry Fox Day weekend, both a hike on the mountain on Saturday Sept. 13th and a walk around the Big Foot Trail on Sept. 14th. Thoni has pledge forms available for anyone interested and encourages people to help organize the event.

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