Like many this spring, the season started off challenging, as the Fernie Trails Alliance (FTA), and our associated Member Clubs, worked through the changes presented by a global pandemic. After a rocky, and somewhat damp spring, it soon became clear that if there was one place to be during the summer months, it was on the trails. Thankfully, here in Fernie we have an extensive trail network, ensuring that a safe, fun, COVID-friendly trail season could be had. We were, in one word, grateful.
The pre-COVID decision to hire a trails manager, Ben Martin, held strong, allowing the FTA to complete necessary early-season work, figure out COVID-19 safety protocols for weekly volunteer work parties to resume, and post trail head signage to communicate with trail users how to be safe while out recreating.
Our Communications Committee in collaboration with the Fundraising Committee, developed a fantastic approach to promote and garner more Trails Passes – QR codes! At trailheads, on donation bins, in local businesses. The response was great, and with this new clear, concise donation route, trail users were more than happy to pay to play.
Meanwhile, a revamped Facebook page and Instagram account allowed us to share news from our website, our Member Clubs, and updates on the extensive maintenance work that our Trails Manager and many volunteers, complete each week. Such regular communications grew awareness of what the FTA and its member clubs do, while increasing the number of trail users who purchase Trails Passes and who sign waivers – an important element that supports our relationship with landowners.
One service which really took off this past summer was the growing use of Trailforks – a mapping app that allows bikers, hikers, runners and other trail users plan their outings, and see where they are real-time on the trails. All of Fernie’s trails are on Trailforks, with trail descriptions, difficulty ratings, trail reports, closures – with trail access info regularly updated. Plus, as it’s user-driven, the more users that file reports and rides, the more info there is for everyone – including our trail volunteers and Trail Manager. A definite win-win.
This season was also positive with regards to the amount of work on popular hiking trails, with significant projects being completed on Mount Proctor and Heiko’s Trail, (from both Hartley Lake and Alpine Trails access points). Both projects were made possible through funding from the Columbia Basin Trust and RMI.
One huge undertaking this past summer and fall was our Inventory and Infrastructure Committee partnership with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and Eos Positioning Systems (Eos). Over the course of eight months, six students from SAITs Bachelor of Applied Technology Geographic Information Systems (BGIS) program, developed the FTA Trail Management Application – a mobile and internet-based mapping system. This was then paired with a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) donated by Eos, to map out the Fernie trail network – including all trails, signage and features. 600 volunteer hours later, we have extensive data collected, with plans for completion 2021.
Lastly, our Governance Committee has been working with landowners to get modernized and updated Land Use Agreements in place, which we’ve now completed with the majority of the landowners. In addition, in the winter off-season we will be developing a signage program to acknowledge and thank landowners at land boundaries. This will not only ensure trail users are aware of whose property they are on when out recreating but will also provide much deserved recognition and appreciation for the access to the landowner’s property.
The FTA works closely with a wide range of local community groups and services, one being Fernie Search & Rescue. With a huge increase in trail use, Fernie SAR encountered many of the same common injuries – both on bike and foot. Fernie SAR emphasizes the importance of understanding how weather affects trail conditions on a bike; the importance of a trip plan when hiking; and the importance of carrying adequate gear when out running. They cannot emphasize enough, the importance of having Trailforks on your phone, so you know exactly where you are, and can share your location with a SAR operative, is highly recommended.
Although on paper it was to be a very different summer, it was extremely busy and overall, very positive. It was clear that there is continued growth and popularity of outdoor recreation – whether trail running, mountain biking or hiking – and growing support from the community as a whole. From virtual events, smaller COVID-safe group rides and runs, and fundraising initiatives, the Fernie trail network enjoyed an outstanding season.
As we move into our second Strategic Session this November, we will continue to look at how to best facilitate this while working with key stakeholders to ensure Fernie continues to offer a ‘vibrant trail network’ for years to come.
With winter approaching, we are excited to see our winter focused Member Clubs planning and promoting their operations. The Fernie Trails and Ski Touring Club worked hard this fall to ensure their backcountry cabins were COVID safe and ready for winter use. Booking opens November 1st, and you must have a membership.
The Fernie Nordic Society is open for seasons passes and will be announcing their kid’s programs soon. Stag Leap Running Co. continues to host its weekly run club, and the Fernie Mountain Bike Club is busy planning winter events and virtual challenges.
Meanwhile, the FTA has been working with Tourism Fernie, the City of Fernie, the Fernie Mountain Bike Club, the Fernie Nordic Society, Montane, Ridgemont, Island Lake and Fernie Alpine Resort to develop a grooming strategy – including a map and resources, for visitors and residents. Stay tuned for more information!
As for 2021, the FTA doesn’t anticipate the pace slowing, with big projects on the horizon such as Contra Phase Two, thanks to RMI funding; an increase in new trail applications, via the online Trails Application process on our website; while partnering with landowners on new and exciting projects! There has also been progression on the Fernie Valley Pathway, which is fast coming to fruition.
To stay up to date on all the of the above, be sure to check out our weekly FAQ’s from the FTA in the Free Press; our monthly article in the Fernie Fix; follow us on Facebook and Instagram; and sign up for our monthly Newsletter on our website – at www.fernietrailsalliance.com.
Thanks to the entire community for the ongoing support and bring on a winter full of #ferniestoke.