Reconnecting Prince Rupert, One Trail at a Time
Imagine growing up in a community nestled between water and mountains, spending your days after school mountain biking on the nearby trails. For Andrew Cuthbert, a Planner in our Vancouver office, this is how he fondly remembers his childhood in Prince Rupert, BC. “I was on those trails all the time when I was a kid – mountain biking, hiking and walking around,” he said, looking back on his younger days.
On a recent trip back for a project, Cuthbert found many of the trails he had enjoyed had fallen into disrepair, in part due to a past depressed economy. They had become overgrown, falling back into the forest, with boardwalks rotting, becoming unusable and unsafe. Even for those willing to traverse through the brush, the rapid growth of Devil’s Club and Salmonberry have made many areas unpassable.
At the same time, he learned about plans that had been in the works since 2009 to not only revitalize the trails, but build a connection between the city, including low intensity access trails and the more challenging hikes in the adjacent forests. An evolution of the Prince Rupert Trail Backcountry Society to include front country access like town trails, the Kaien Island Trail Enhancement and Recreation Society (KITEARS) was actively looking for a way to put the existing community support – both emotionally and financially – to good use and put plan into action.
“I contacted the person who submitted the proposal and said ‘Hey! I’m interested in your project. How can I help?’” Cuthbert recalled. Since KITEARS was working with such a limited budget, and because of Urban Systems existing relationship in the community, Cuthbert offered to volunteer his time to support the initiative however they needed. “It turned out what they needed was someone to create a plan that solidified their vision.”
Working with KITEARS, he helped them develop a plan that illustrated the society’s vision and priorities for developing the network, as well as cohesive scheduling for achieving their goals. They had already designed the proposed network with the help of McElhanney, however Cuthbert’s expertise proved valuable in clearly laying out classification and prioritization for the network, as well as the plan for facilitating further construction as increased funding becomes available.
Part of the challenge for upgrading the network is that with lack of funding, the City of Prince Rupert was unable to allocate a budget for improvements or take on any liability for the revitalization. As such, KITEARS decided to take on that responsibility, leasing the land from the City themselves, and using donated funds to cover liability. With a growing presence in the community and desire to contribute to their community, resource-based companies were interested in providing investment for this kind of social capital in Prince Rupert, to improve the quality of life for residents, many of whom they employ.
“It’s a good time for this kind of project because there’s the funding as well as the desire for it,” Cuthbert explained. It’s not just local investors that want to see the network actualized. Many in the community are vocal about having access to the amazing landscape around them. One of the most front-of-mind issues in Prince Rupert is access to the waterfront, largely occupied by some of these same resource companies, restricting access for locals.
KITEARS recognized this desire, designing a plan resembling a tree, with three main components:
- Trunk Loops: Intended to be the core of the network, these are low intensity, accessible recreation trails suitable for users of all ages, abilities and active modes – like cycling.
- Branch Trails: A network of existing and planned trails that will cater to a variety of levels and difficulty, and connect to the main Trunk Loops. They are intended to allow users to get a closer connection to nature, with a focus on recreation and wilderness access.
- Leaves: The natural, recreational and cultural destinations and amenities accessible through the Trunk Loops and Branch Trails. KITERS designed numerous interactive elements in their plan, including points of interest, rest stops and other activities.
Work will begin this summer on the first leg of Trunk Loop 1; the existing 1.3km Rushbrooke trail, rehabilitating the waterfront trail along the unused railway corridor. The trail connects the downtown waterfront with Seal Cove, a popular destination at the Northeast point of the island. When the entire loop is complete, it will provide an accessible trail that links the city to the outlying areas, as well as becoming a viable transportation route.
Cuthbert sees this route as a crucial link for those residents that rely on the sometimes infrequent public transportation options to get around. It will provide them with more active transportation options currently not feasible. “Being able to get around on your own steam is going to be very powerful to a lot of people.”
Progress will be slow as KITEARS works through the project, which estimates to create approximately 50kms of trail network when complete, in part due to funding, but also because of the challenging terrain. Branch trails will dissect the rugged, varying conditions in neighbouring forests and mountain areas, and trunk loops, like that of the first leg, run along areas of bog, requiring
large amounts of gravel infill before construction of smooth, paved conditions can begin. KITEARS is encouraged, though, with the existing support from both local businesses and the community. They see the network as a legacy project for the North Coast that will be enjoyed for years to come.
For Cuthbert, the opportunity to give back to the community he grew up in is a chance to enable experiences he had as a child be enjoyed by the next generation. “Almost everyday after school I would go out and do a loop around the whole town by bike. I would just like it if the kids growing up in Prince Rupert had the same opportunity to bomb around on their bikes like I did!”