SLEKTAIN ŚKEM¸SET (TRAIL)

Surveyed summer 1988 – 30th Anniversary

Spring and summer 1988 was the period where the Barret Montfort, Woodward, and Merrill Harrop Trails were considered built and open for the public. In March 1989, BC Parks installed new cedar air blasted signs for Barret Montfort (4), Woodward (2), and Merrill Harrop (1). Shortly afterwards, Edo Nyland (who founded the Friends of John Dean Park), Dieter Weichert, and Neil Michaluk plotted a fourth new trail through the parks North Block. Their vision was to continue and complete the outer loop trail experience. The new trail was to start at the north trailhead of Barret Montfort West (Dunsmuir Lodge lower parking lot), and wander southward through the North Block to the upper entrance road. After many evenings of walking cross-country and learning the terrain and areas of interest, considering gradient, sensitive areas, genius loci, and continuous backtracking, an ideal route was selected and flagged.

On September 9, 1988, Edo wrote BC Parks: “The North Block of the park is very rough in places and a great deal of searching and back tracking had to be done to find a suitable location. Please come and inspect the work done so far. You are advised to wear old clothes in the logged-over part of the park. If the location of the proposed trail is satisfactory, we could start construction by the end of October.”

On February 2, 1989, the BC Parks Zone Supervisor inspected the proposed North Block route, and on March 10 wrote: “This letter will confirm approval for the Friends of John Dean to construct the section of trail from the Dunsmuir Lodge back to Dean Park Road that we walked on February 2, 1989. Please ensure that the trail is constructed entirely within the park boundary. If there is any doubt please inform me before construction.”

Initial trail blazing commenced in March 1989. Six volunteers started by working from the upper entrance road down northward to Dunsmuir Lodge. The first two months were spent making final choices as to where each stretch of trail would run, and conducting the initial blaze through the thick vegetation. The first time I walked this new route was in June 1989 (age 14), and it was an extremely hot day. The trail was obviously newly cut, dusty, loaded with tripping hazards, and ended where todays Cougar Hollow West turnoff commences.

A week later, I visited Edo Nyland at his home on Forest Park Drive, and I asked about this new trail. He explained that it was a continuation of the outer loop trail through the North Block, and to my surprise he offered, “the route is flagged, and we need your help.” That afternoon I followed the entire flagged route cross-country down and up, and I remember thinking this was a major undertaking. The next Saturday at 9am I joined the “trail crew”, and each week we pushed the trail northward about 10%. We arrived at Dunsmuir Lodge by mid-August.

My summer of 1989 was all about building this North Block trail. Aside from 10 days at Camp Thunderbird mid-July, and two weeks late-August commercial fishing with my father, I was there every day. One trail crew worked several mornings each week, another crew worked evenings, and we all came together on Saturday mornings 9-11:30am. As thirst and hunger settled in, we sat together and enjoyed picnic lunches. Ivy Anderson brought coffee, juice, fresh muffins and mini sandwiches; those trailside picnics are very special memories. Other great motivators for me were to encounter a section of trail recently worked on, and similarly to leave another new section or improvement for others to discover and continue with. This spirited level if teamwork was highly motivational and most surely enthused my future stewardship roles. One Trail Captain and mentor was Charlie Goldie. He assembled three traditional bridges cut from nearby cedar logs for this trail. The first two bridges were at the Cougar Hollow inflow crossings #2 and #3, and the third was across the parks northern most pond.

In June 1989, Edo submitted an application through BC Parks for the Environmental Youth Corps of British Columbia (EYC) E-Team program to complete the Slektain Trail. By mid-July the project proposal was before their steering committee, and by August 14, Edo had a supervisor and a crew of five youth between ages 16 and 24 finishing the North Block Trail for a six week period. They were managed by Jack Thom, whom Edo knew from his time in the Yukon, which created a great working relationship.

The six crew members were onsite working approximately five hours each day, four days per week. The fifth day was dedicated to training and developing skills for future employment. The training included project planning, safety, evaluation, personal finance, self-discipline, work habits, environmental awareness, risk assessment, and basic tool operation and maintenance.

Jack, who had three decades of work and trail building experience also possessed those skills needed to successfully guide and inspire the regional youth who were not in school. Edo was considered the “Project Sponsor”, and was present every single day. Each morning Edo met the E-Team van at the Dunsmuir Lodge staff parking lot at 9am. Most days the tools were already on-site hidden in the forest, so they only carried their lunch, water and changes of clothes. They walked up the trail past the work they’d previously done to the next stretch of trail and planned the day’s work. Typically they split into three sub-teams, and worked on different spots. They transformed the recently blazed 24” path to a 30” well graded trail. Tripping hazards were removed, and the rocks were used to support and brace the lower trail edges. Stone steps were installed on steeper grades and especially in front of the larger roots, to create a steady assent soils were moved to fill in dips, and the surface was levelled.

Each week, an E-Team produced 120 hours of trail improvements. In total, a combined 1,200 hours were vested into completing the Slektain Trail.

 

Crew Project Trail Dates Weeks Hours
Crew # 1 Slektain 1989, Aug-Sep 6 720
Crew # 2-B Slektain 1990, Sep-Oct 4 480

 

A year later, John Dean Park received further assistance from the EYC. A second team started August 30, 1990, and worked for six weeks. Their first project was finishing along the Barret Montfort Trail East mostly below Pickles’ Bluff. They moved large rocks, installed stone steps, graded and finished where the volunteers had left off. Next, they spent four weeks working along the Slektain Trail. Similar to the first crew, they started at Dunsmuir Lodge and worked southward. The second crew installed stone steps, further graded the trail surface, and generally fashioned the trail one experiences today. This is the crew I met several times and clearly remember them on scene. Every day after school I walked the Slektain to check what they produced. From their results, I learned the necessary trail philosophy needed to properly maintain and improve trails. I credit Edo Nyland, and the works of both E-Teams for establishing a wide, supported, and graded Slektain trail surface – thank-you!

Surprisingly, the new North Block trail remained nameless. The first name to appear within the North Block was Cougar Hollow. It was my grandfather Norman Arnold, who suggested the name in jest. At his home in Victoria I created the sign, and installed it at the northern stream entering the large swamp, which has become known as Cougar Hollow.

On September 11, 1990, as the Friends Secretary, I motioned the executive to ask the Pauquachin Band for a suitable name. Soon after I met Gabe Bartlemen of Tsartlip/W̱JOȽEȽP, who offered the name SLEKTAIN, a Hereditary Chief name of Pauquachin/BOḰEĆEN, and this was instantly accepted. Also at this time, we attached the names ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ and THUNDERBIRD to the trails that lead to the ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ summit. In 1992, BC Parks installed carved trail signs for the Slektain (2), and Thunderbird (2) trails.

In February of 1992, the Pauquachin Band wrote BC Parks expressing their concern that the Friends of John Dean Park had built trails which entered their lands. In response, BC Parks contracted a surveyor to blaze and flag the boundary lines shared by the Pauquachin Reserve and John Dean Park. Three minor incursions were found: 1) Valley Mist/West Viewpoint switchback, 1937, 50’; 2) Merrill Harrop Trail, 1988, 30’ over a 100’ length; and 3) Slektain Trail, 1989, 75’ over a 50’ length. Shortly afterwards, the minor Harrop and Slektain incursions were closed and those portions of trail were relocated into the park. At the Duck Pond, a large staircase was installed in line with the dam, which negated the switchback. Although BC Parks took corrective actions, they didn’t monitor the situations, especially at the Slektain reroute.

Just north of the Cougar Hollow swamp, the Slektain Trail had entered the Reserve by 75’. The trail had switch backed around a stump and then headed back into the park. To move the trail into the park, a subcontractor installed landscaping steps up a steep slope and closed the former switchback, plus installed a railing at the top of the former route. However, by this time, many regulars were using a deer trail that connected the Slektain and an old logging road located 150m away within the Reserve. This Reserve connector provided a natural directional route along the west side of Cougar Hollow to the old-growth valley. The regulars simply walked around the 8’ barrier, stomped over a rotten log and thought nothing of the importance of having a proper provincial park trail plan. After several years of attempted closers, so many had learned of and started to use this instinctual south/northward route, that the only possible resolve was to name this route as Cougar Hollow West Side. To make sense of this route, in 2005, I installed a new sign “Park <->” at the key turn on the reserve logging road. This solution has worked well, however, should people open and venture northward into the Reserve down the old logging road, I foresee the entire west-side route will be closed and signed as closed.

Mid-September 1990 was truly when the Slektain Trail was considered completed, signed, and when park regulars started to use the trail. At this point I was in grade 10 (age 16), and this was the way I entered John Dean Park during my high school years. A year later, summer 1991, the entire upper portion of today’s Dean Park Estates was completely clear-cut, and from the different roads, the park boundary looked like a flat wall of trees. From inside the park, the tree clearing was most apparent from the portion of the Barret Montfort Trail nearest to Dunsmuir Lodge; the trail literally ran behind the newly subdivided properties. Our solution was to close the northern portion of the Barret Montfort Trail, which included dismantling Charlie’s best footbridge that crossed the northeastern stream. The Montfort Trail was directed westward up a former logging track to the current lower Slektain Trailhead. To empathise the importance of Barret Montfort’s 1960 donation, and to have the trail which bears him name run the entire length of the east line, I made the decision to rename the northern portion of Slektain as Montfort, and I moved the northern trailhead sign from the North Entrance up to its current lower/north trailhead.

After the autumn of 1990, Edo and I were the only volunteers who continued working on the trail. Edo regularly did minor improvements for many years and otherwise regularly walked the Slektain until 2003. When interviewed, Edo said: “The Slektain Trail was the hardest work of all, on which some 30 people laboured, including two youth crews.” His time on the Slektain was 1988-2003 (15 years).

The only other person to volunteer on the Slektain Trail was a retired Forester Andrew Michell. Throughout the autumn of 2009 to February 2010 he worked two or three sessions per week on the Slektain removing tripping hazards, raised several portions of the trail which eliminated the need for a few stone steps, and chiefly improved the overall safety of the trail. Andrew’s work corrected the signs of 20-years of wear and tear, and improved its overall safety. His work created a trail surface whereby future long-term degradation was vastly reduced. Over five months, Andrew worked 150 hours on the trail – thanks Andrew!

Since 1989, I’ve taken care of every aspect of the Slektain. This includes maintaining trail signs and trailheads, removing fallen trees and debris, releasing pinned branches, grooming overgrowth, maintaining bridges, culverts and drainage channels, resetting stonework, and raising stretches of trail which showed the onset of erosion and compaction. Literally every trail building technique has gone into creating and maintaining a sustainable and safe route that explores an amazing area of ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ / John Dean Provincial Park.

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