Early Development of Larch Hills Cross-Country Ski Trails

By Connie Crowley, President of Shuswap Outdoors! 

The Larch Hills is a range of forested hills east of Salmon Arm and west of Mara Lake, extending for about 25 kilometres south from Shuswap Lake.   Timber has been harvested, using the methods of the day, ever since the area was permanently settled. By 1970 this activity had produced a network of roads, skids, and trails, new and old, in different stages of regrowth and overgrowth and deadfall along with the latest clear cuts and plantations. The Larch Hills had been described for recreation in “Trails To The Shuswap,” 1973 and 1976.   Shuswap Outdoors! is a club dedicated to outdoors self-propelled activities. It formed in 1973 by a group of cross-country skiers taking outings to different places around the area.  One winter, 1972/73, we took an outing to the Mara Meadows at the end of Edgar Rd. on Grandview Bench.  From there we saw the Hills and also a road going into them.   The B.C. government published maps on a scale of 1:126,720 (2 mile maps).   The Shuswap Lake map, second edition 1969, showed the main roads as well as some of the smaller ones. By 1973 these smaller roads were becoming overgrown.  SO! found these and followed them on skis or hiked them in summer.  On many we had to deal with a lot of deadfall and regrowth. There were many possibilities for ski trails if we could get all that deadfall and regrowth out of the way.   One of the early projects was to make a “shelter” in one of the rooms in the old homestead. Federated Cooperatives donated some plywood, SO! members purchased a stove and pipes and after one enthusiastic work party a small but enclosed space was out of the weather.  Unhappily the stove did not survive the season.  By spring it had been taken away by persons unknown.

The Trails System   After several years of outings SO! thought it was desirable to have a ski trails system (1974).   The trails would be cleared, brushed out, signed, etc.  This so that skiers would not have to depend on an organized outing to go skiing. They could go by themselves whenever they wanted.   To Make A Trails System   Where should this be?  We had been up quite a few logging roads all over the Shuswap and knew the snow conditions, snowfall, terrain, etc. by then.   The Larch Hills were decided on even though there are areas higher in elevation which get more snow.  The reasons: 1. Access:  The Hills are next to a farming community which has public roads for the farms.  Edgar Rd. was joined by one of the forestry roads.  It provided access and then the forestry road could be a ski trail. 2.  Elevation The Larch Hills are high enough to get sufficient snow with a long enough snow season. 3.  Terrain:  The area is not continuous up to the top and then back down.  There are small hills, some ups, some downs, and several creeks.  If anything is lacking it is flat, but once you can ski, the grades are OK. 4.  Previous activity:   Logging throughout the years had left roads and skid trails, as well as two major BCFS roads.  Many of these were in various states of being overgrown but they could be revived with a lot of work.

1972 – 1977   SO! proceeded to organize volunteer work parties which would, on week-ends, hack and saw and toss brush off the trail.  By 1975 we had learned two things. 1.  Clearing trails in winter was not feasible. 2.  This process was too slow.  If there was ever going to be a system a concerted effort was needed.   Enter one of Canada’s periodic episodes of unemployment and Government Make Work schemes.  These were designed to provide some kind of work to the unemployed, especially at times of the year when work was slow.  This took the form of grants to, usually organizations, for specific projects. Several trails in the Shuswap had been made using these grants.       1. 1976: Connie Crowley prepared a proposal for a ski trails system in the Larch Hills and SO! applied for a Local Initiatives Grant (LIP). A  BC Forest Service permit was necessary.  This was obtained without much difficulty since they were interested in a multiple use philosophy for public lands. Bill Pistak was in charge of the Salmon Arm office and granted this permission. 2.  This grant application was unsuccessful. 3.  Try again!  SO! members figured they would have more credibility if it was an incorporated society. This was done in May of 1978. Tom Crowley was the first president.  After getting advice from some of the people who had received grants for other trail projects we applied again.  The name of the program had changed to Canada Works.  This time SUCCESS!

1977 – 1980   First Trails Project 1977 The project required designing the system, clearing the trails, and signs.  The project manager was given this job as well as hiring the crew and doing the bookkeeping. The Crew: Project Manager, Connie Crowley and three crew. Signs meant names. The decision among the trails crew was to use some incident of the work to give the name or something special about a particular trail.  After a few of those we realized that plant and animal names were coming up frequently. So we switched to names from Nature.  For example:  Ermine Frolic –In late October, as we walked back at the end of the day. a weasel already in its winter white coat jumped up on a log beside the trail and watched us go by.  Also Bruin’s Ramble where we needed a connection between two old roads. This was found by following a bear track.  Lynx Trot (the next year) was named because, as he was putting signs on Raven’s Ridge, Tom Crowley was watched by a lynx. Along with the crew, SO! members continued to find more old roads, tracks, bear trails etc.  On week-ends trail clearing parties continued, as well as a lot of bushwhacking to find new routes for the crew to clear.   BCFS loaned the project some air photos of the area.  These had been taken a number of years earlier and were very helpful since, at the time they were taken, the vegetation had not grown in as much. After reading some manuals about making a trails system, we concentrated on making connections and loops and some “destinations”. Carolyn and Art Herbert gave the project their basement to use for sign making. The colour of the signs was debated.  Some were in favour of black on yellow but the decision was to use orange on brown. These are natural colours but also distinct enough to contrast with the white winter background. When these were finished the final work for the crew was nailing these to trees, again assisted by SO! members. Some were placed after the snow fell and even after the project was officially finished. SO! members were active, enthusiastic and assisted in all aspects of this project.   Trails completed:  Larch Hills Rd., Metford Rd., Lover’s Lane, Country Lane, Dimrill Stair, Raven’s Ridge, Squirrel Run,  Bunny Branch, Lidstone  Connection, Grouse Track, Moose Hollow, Deadman’s Drop, Ermine Frolic, Bruin’s Ramble, Jay Walk, Temptation, Stig’s Loop, Treebeard’s Trail,  Sky Trail,  Forest Fantasy, Alder Lane, White Pine Walk, Log Roller, Larch Lake Loop, Lunar Loop, Moon Walk, Mara Rd. Connection, Baby Moon Walk,  Connection to Ermine Frolic (now Jackrabbit Lane), Mara Meadows Loop, Satan’s Folly.  Map The system was extensive enough that a map was desirable.  SO! undertook this after the grant was finished.  Using the air photos and topographic maps, the trails were traced, etc.  Some pictures were found to add interest, and a brief description of each trail was on the back.  The map was printed on waterproof and rip-proof paper. Hugh Hatfield volunteered the drafting and Georgia McLeod the typing.    Those in SO! realized that there were many more overgrown routes that could connect and become part of the ski trails system.  A second grant application was made.  Initial refusal, but 2 weeks into September of 1978 we heard it was approved.  Second Trails Project 1978 The Crew:  project manager plus eight crew This project was the same as the previous one, with the addition of construction of two shelters.  These were lean-to types, designed to keep people out of the weather if needed.  A log shelter was constructed above Larch Lake off Lunar Loop, and one at Coyote Caper and Lidstone Connection.  This one was made of salvaged boards, etc. left there by a logging operation 15 or 20 years before. The same philosophy for names was applied. New trails were:  Mushroom Fantasy, Devil’s Lunge, Lynx Trot, Chipmunk Chase, Porcupine Alley, Marten’s Track, Coyote Caper, Bobcat Bounce, Cottonwood Cut-Off, Spruce Lane, Scat Lane, and Thrush Lane. Deer Track.  Other trails cleared by SO! members were: The Greenway, Cedar Circle, Hemlock Glide, Fir Lane, and Look-out Run.  Again SO! members were active in designing and clearing these along with the crew. This time the District of Salmon Arm gave us the basement of the Municipal Offices to use for sign making. Signs were put up by the Crew and SO! members. Many were transported on skis and carried in backpacks, due to the late start and finish of the project.  Additions after 1978 More trails were added in the next several years.  Club members worked enthusiastically on week-ends to make more trails that extended the system and created more connections. These additions are: Clearcut Connection, The Thicket, Moonshot, Larch Ledge, Log Roller, Cougar Corridor, Pileated Promenade,  Puma Path,  Caribou Memory, Lichen Traverse , Frodo’s Bog, Bilbo’s Bog, Deer Bog, Devil’s Lunge. The Larch Hills Ski Club (first meeting May 4. 1979, incorporated August 1980) also developed trails close to the end of the road (some using various grants.)  SO! members These are the people who initiated, contributed and volunteered many hours of work in making these trails from 1974 to 1980.   For many, besides making trails for the present and future, – bushwhacking, hacking, tossing branches and sawing deadfall was a type of recreation on week-ends! Apologies to anyone who may have been missed.  In no particular order: Don Barz, Bill Wharton, Art Herbert, Carolyn Herbert, Stig Keskinen, Joe Munro, Jim Mack, Tom Marshall, Judy Murray, Reid Fowler, Dick Riach, Georgia McLeod, Dave Neilson, Bev Neilson, Tom Jordan, Ron Burt, Gloria Burt, Carole Ruth, Henry Schneider, Ali Schneider, Anne Watt, Markku Nikmo, Clint Smith, Marg Filiatrault, Tom Crowley, Connie Crowley. Advice and knowledge were freely given by Ed and George Thielman, and Allen Cadwell.  The Road   The access road from Edgar Road became a problem.  If there was no vehicular activity it was fine for a trail.  But it was used for  winter logging and then skiers liked to drive up it, park near the old homestead and go from there.  The road was steep and narrow and maintenance for logging purposes was not good enough for a family car. It became desirable to have the road maintained for winter driving.  Some meetings were held and letters written.  One memorable meeting  was at the end of the road  near the beginning of winter with Shuswap MLA  and some members of Salmon Arm council:  Famous comment by  the MLA: “I work in this stuff all the time”, as he scuffs the snow, “I  don’t intend to play in it “. Salmon Arm Council was supportive.  Other recreation The other winter recreationists thought that using these nicely cleared trails was a good thing and they did so.  This resulted in the usual snowmobile wars that take place in B.C. whenever they find a new area or have a newer model of machine.  After several years of reaching various agreements about how the trails would be used etc., and finding these were not kept, the situation reached a point where the Ministry of Forests stepped in.  They made a Management Plan for the Larch Hills, after consultation with the many users. Summer uses were not a problem in the early days. SO! was sensitive to the wildlife in the area and actually welcomed seeing these.

1980 – 1985   The trail system continued to develop.  But problems arose. The old, narrow, steep logging road got more and more winter use, plus the conflicts between snowmobiles and skiers. Although agreements between the ski club and the newly formed snowmobile club were devised, these were impossible to enforce by anyone since Crown land is available for anyone.  The Ministry of Forests decided to make a Management plan for the area, for resource extraction as well as recreation needs.  Also they needed a better road since parts of the old one were on private property. The Plan was completed in 1984.

The Management Plan It included all users in the Hills, industrial, commercial and recreational. The ski trails became officially designated as recreation trails. A snowmobile route around the area and access to Larch Lake for ice fishing was designated. It also resulted in a new road.  The old one crossed several parcels of private land and for forestry access; the Ministry of Forests needed a new road. After the new road was completed, the old one became a ski trail. This resulted in the ski trails being officially designated for cross-country skiing in winter and a new road, among other things.   Since then logging in parts of the area have obliterated some trails but provided opportunities to extend some trails.  The volunteer club members have devised new links and restored the trails if possible. The Ministry of Forests took over responsibility for signs and making maps.   A third and last edition of the ski trails map was published in 1987 with the changes. Since then computers have become commonly used, updating maps is relatively easy and no further maps have been printed.   Continuing activities to the present are clearing the deadfall and new growth every year on the ungroomed trails of the system.  Also maps are placed at trail junctions.  Since vandalism is impossible to stop, these are removed every spring and put back up every fall. 

To read an article written by Tammy Thielman about the logging that lead to the establishment of the original Larch Hills trails please click here.