Early Development of Larch Hills Cross-Country Ski Trails
By Connie Crowley, President of Shuswap Outdoors!Â
The Larch Hills isÂ a range of forested hills east of Salmon Arm and west of Mara Lake, extending for about 25 kilometres south from Shuswap Lake. Â Timber has been harvested, using theÂ methods of the day, ever since theÂ 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.Â The Larch Hills had been described for recreation in “Trails To The Shuswap,” 1973 and 1976. Â Shuswap Outdoors! is a club dedicated to outdoors self-propelled activities. ItÂ formed in 1973 byÂ a group of cross-country skiers takingÂ outings to differentÂ places around the area.Â OneÂ winter, 1972/73,Â we took an outing to the Mara MeadowsÂ at the end of Edgar Rd. on Grandview Bench.Â From there we saw the Hills and also a road goingÂ into them. Â The B.C. government published maps on a scale of 1:126,720 (2 mile maps). Â The Shuswap Lake map, second edition 1969, showedÂ the main roads as well asÂ some of the smaller ones. By 1973 these smaller roads were becoming overgrown.Â SO! found these and followed them on skis or hiked them in summer.Â On manyÂ we had to deal with a lot of deadfall and regrowth.Â There were many possibilities for ski trailsÂ if we could getÂ all that deadfall and regrowth out of the way. Â One of the early projects was to make a “shelter” in one of the rooms in the old homestead. Federated CooperativesÂ donated some plywood, SO! members purchased a stove and pipes and after one enthusiastic work party a smallÂ butÂ enclosed spaceÂ was out of the weather.Â Unhappily the stove did not survive the season.Â By spring it had been taken away by persons unknown.
The Trails System Â After several years ofÂ outings SO! thought it was desirable to have a ski trailsÂ system (1974). Â The trails would be cleared, brushed out, signed, etc.Â This so that skiers would not have to depend on an organized outing to go skiing. TheyÂ could go by themselves whenever they wanted. Â To Make A Trails System Â Where should this be?Â We had been up quite a few logging roadsÂ all over the Shuswap and knew the snow conditions, snowfall, terrain, etc. by then. Â The Larch Hills were decided on even though there areÂ areas higher in elevation which get more snow.Â The reasons: 1. Access:Â The Hills are next to a farming community which has public roads for the farms.Â Edgar Rd. was joined by one of the forestry roads.Â It provided access and then the forestry road could be a ski trail. 2.Â ElevationÂ The Larch Hills are high enough to getÂ sufficient snow with a long enough snow season. 3.Â Terrain:Â The area is notÂ continuous up to the top and then back down.Â There are small hills, some ups, some downs,Â and several creeks.Â If anything is lacking it isÂ flat, but once you can ski, the grades are OK. 4.Â Previous activity: Â Logging throughout the years had left roads and skid trails, as well as two major BCFS roads.Â Many of these wereÂ in various states ofÂ being overgrown but they could be revived with a lot of work.
1972 – 1977 Â SO! proceeded to organize volunteer work parties which would, on week-ends, hack and saw and toss brushÂ off the trail.Â By 1975 we had learned two things. 1.Â Clearing trails in winter was not feasible. 2.Â This process was too slow.Â If there was ever going to be a system a concerted effort was needed. Â Enter one of Canada’s periodic episodes of unemployment and Government Make Work schemes.Â These were designed to provide some kind of work to the unemployed, especially at times of the year when work was slow.Â This took the form of grants to, usually organizations,Â for specific projects. Several trails in the Shuswap had been made using these grants. Â Â Â 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). AÂ BC Forest Service permit was necessary.Â This wasÂ 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.Â This grant application was unsuccessful. 3.Â Try again!Â SO! members figuredÂ they would have more credibility if it wasÂ an incorporated society. This was done in May of 1978. Tom Crowley was the first president.Â After getting advice from some of the people who had received grants for other trail projects we applied again.Â The name of the program had changed to Canada Works.Â This time SUCCESS!
1977 – 1980 Â First Trails Project 1977 TheÂ project required designingÂ the system,Â clearing the trails, and signs.Â 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 meantÂ names. The decision amongÂ the trails crew was to use some incident of the work to give the name orÂ something special about a particular trail.Â After a fewÂ of those we realized thatÂ plant and animal names were coming up frequently. SoÂ we switched toÂ names from Nature.Â For example:Â 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.Â Also Bruin’s Ramble where we needed a connection between two old roads.Â This was found by following a bear track.Â Lynx Trot (the next year) was namedÂ because, as he was putting signs on Raven’s Ridge, Tom Crowley wasÂ watched by a lynx. Along with the crew, SO! members continued to find more old roads, tracks, bear trails etc.Â On week-ends trail clearing parties continued, as well as a lot ofÂ bushwhacking to find new routes for the crew to clear. Â BCFS loaned the project some air photos of the area.Â 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 loopsÂ andÂ some “destinations”. Carolyn and Art Herbert gave the project their basement to use for sign making.Â The colour of the signs wasÂ debated.Â SomeÂ 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, enthusiasticÂ and assisted in all aspects of this project. Â Trails completed:Â Larch Hills Rd., Metford Rd., Lover’s Lane, Country Lane, Dimrill Stair, Raven’s Ridge, Squirrel Run,Â Bunny Branch, LidstoneÂ Connection, Grouse Track, Moose Hollow, Deadman’s Drop, Ermine Frolic, Bruin’s Ramble, Jay Walk, Temptation, Stig’s Loop, Treebeard’s Trail,Â Sky Trail,Â Forest Fantasy, Alder Lane, White Pine Walk, Log Roller, Larch Lake Loop, Lunar Loop, Moon Walk, Mara Rd. Connection, Baby Moon Walk,Â Connection to Ermine Frolic (now Jackrabbit Lane), Mara Meadows Loop, Satan’s Folly.Â Map The system was extensive enough thatÂ a map was desirable.Â SO! undertook this after the grant was finished.Â Using the air photos and topographic maps, the trails wereÂ traced, etc.Â Some pictures were found to add interest, and a briefÂ description of each trail was on the back.Â The map was printed on waterproof and rip-proof paper. Hugh Hatfield volunteered the drafting and Georgia McLeod the typing.Â Â Those in SO! realized that there were many more overgrown routes that could connect and become part of theÂ ski trails system.Â A second grant application wasÂ made.Â Initial refusal, butÂ 2 weeks into September of 1978 we heard it was approved.Â SecondÂ Trails Project 1978 The Crew:Â project manager plus eight crew This project was the same as the previous one, with the addition of construction of two shelters.Â TheseÂ were lean-to types, designedÂ to keep people out of theÂ weather if needed.Â AÂ logÂ shelter was constructedÂ above Larch Lake off Lunar Loop, and one at Coyote Caper and Lidstone Connection.Â This one was made of salvagedÂ boards, etc. left there by aÂ logging operation 15 or 20 years before. The same philosophy for names was applied. New trails were:Â Mushroom Fantasy, Devil’s Lunge, Lynx Trot, Chipmunk Chase,Â Porcupine Alley, Marten’s Track, Coyote Caper, Bobcat Bounce, Cottonwood Cut-Off, Spruce Lane, Scat Lane, and Thrush Lane. Deer Track.Â OtherÂ trails cleared by SO! members were: The Greenway,Â Cedar Circle, Hemlock Glide, Fir Lane, and Look-out Run.Â Again SO! members were active in designing and clearing these along with the crew. This time the District of Salmon ArmÂ gave us the basement of the Municipal Offices to use for sign making. Signs were put up byÂ the Crew and SO! members. Many wereÂ transportedÂ on skis and carried in backpacks, due to the late start and finish of the project.Â Additions after 1978 More trails were added in the next several years.Â Club membersÂ worked enthusiastically onÂ week-endsÂ to make more trailsÂ that extended the system and created more connections. These additions are: Clearcut Connection, The Thicket,Â Moonshot, Larch Ledge, Log Roller, Cougar Corridor, Pileated Promenade,Â Puma Path,Â 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) alsoÂ developedÂ trailsÂ close to the end of the road (some using various grants.)Â SO! members These are the people who initiated, contributed and volunteered many hours of work in making these trailsÂ fromÂ 1974Â to 1980. Â For many, besides making trails for the present and future, – bushwhacking,Â hacking, tossing branches and sawing deadfall wasÂ a type of recreationÂ on week-ends! Apologies to anyone who may have been missed.Â 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.Â The Road Â The access road from Edgar Road became a problem.Â If there was no vehicular activity it was fine for a trail.Â But it was used forÂ winter logging and then skiers liked to drive up it, park near the old homestead and go from there.Â The road was steep and narrow and maintenance for logging purposes was not good enough for a family car.Â It became desirable to haveÂ the road maintained for winter driving.Â Some meetings were heldÂ and letters written.Â One memorable meetingÂ was at the end of the roadÂ near the beginning of winter with Shuswap MLAÂ and some members of Salmon Arm council:Â Famous comment byÂ the MLA: “I work in this stuff all the time”, as he scuffs the snow, “IÂ don’t intend to play in it “. Salmon Arm Council was supportive.Â Other recreation The other winter recreationists thought that using these nicely cleared trails was a good thing and they did so.Â 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. Â After several years of reaching various agreements about how the trails would be usedÂ etc., and finding these were not kept, the situation reached a point where the Ministry of Forests stepped in.Â TheyÂ 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 Â The trail system continued to develop.Â But problems arose. The old, narrow, steepÂ loggingÂ road got more and moreÂ winter use, plus the conflicts between snowmobiles andÂ skiers. Although agreements between the ski club and the newly formed snowmobile club were devised, these were impossible toÂ enforceÂ by anyone since Crown landÂ is available for anyone.Â The Ministry of Forests decided to make a Management plan for the area, for resource extraction as well asÂ recreation needs.Â Also they needed a betterÂ road since parts of theÂ old one were on private property.Â The Plan was completed in 1984.
The ManagementÂ Plan It included all users in the Hills, industrial, commercial and recreational.Â 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. ItÂ also resulted in a newÂ road.Â The old one crossed several parcels of private land and for forestry access; the Ministry of ForestsÂ needed a new road. After the new road was completed, the old one became a ski trail. This resulted in the ski trailsÂ being officially designated forÂ cross-country skiing in winter and a new road,Â among other things. Â Since then logging in parts of the area have obliteratedÂ some trails but providedÂ opportunities to extend some trails.Â TheÂ volunteer club members have devised new links and restored the trails if possible. The Ministry of Forests took over responsibility forÂ signs and making maps. Â A third and last edition of the ski trails map was publishedÂ in 1987Â with the changes. Since then computers have becomeÂ commonly used, updating maps is relatively easy and noÂ further maps have been printed. Â Continuing activities to the present are clearing the deadfall and new growthÂ every year on the ungroomed trails of the system.Â Also maps areÂ placed at trail junctions.Â Since vandalism is impossible to stop, these are removed every spring andÂ put back up everyÂ fall.Â
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.