This weekend, six years of hard work and thousands of volunteer hours by Back Country Horsemen of British Columbia North Cariboo Chapter (BCHBC-NC) members will culminate in the Opening Celebration of the Collins Overland Telegraph Trail (COTT).
Everyone is invited to ride, hike and walk the historic trail and celebrate the hard work and community support that has gone into it.
As of May 18, the 58-kilometre section of the COTT from Rawlings Road to the Blackwater Crossing is now rideable from end to end.
This project started six years ago. When the Blackwater Road was built many years ago, this active logging road covered parts of the COTT, making it unsafe to travel the trail. As part of this project, BCHBC-NC rerouted a total of 27 kilometres of the trail so that it was safe for all to use.
BCHBC-NC members have worked hard to make the trail accessible to equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers and have built a new trailhead. They are still working on procuring land for a mid-point campground, and there is a day-use site and a recreational campground at the Blackwater Crossing area.
In the late 1800s, the COTT was used by packers, prospectors, miners, speculators, merchants and even entertainers as they travelled north in search of gold.
The COTT was originally designed to go from North America to Russia via British Columbia and Alaska.
Mapping of the portion from Quesnel north started in 1865, and construction started in 1866 from Quesnel and continued north to Fort Stager on the Kispioux River. The line was abandoned in the spring of 1867, but the trail continued to be used during the Klondike, Cassiar and Omineca gold rushes.
In 1901, this part of the telegraph line became part of the Quesnel-Atlin Telegraph Line. It continued to operate until 1936.
Dwight Dodge and others made it their goal to preserve the trail. Dodge ran the Telegraph Trail Preservation Society from 1953 until 2006 and continued working on the trail after the society disbanded.
Two years before Dodge’s death in 2016, the BCHBC North Cariboo Chapter was created, and members began working to clear part of the trail.
“Dwight had a partnership agreement with the government for maintaining the trail,” said chapter chair Rob LaFrance. “We wanted to help him, and he started taking us out on the trail.”
In 2015, BCHBC-NC took on the task of resurrecting the COTT as part of their mandate.
This year, BCHBC-NC members began building a new trailhead three kilometres up the Blackwater Road.
LaFrance estimates BCHBC-NC members have volunteered thousands of hours on the trail in the past six years. In 2018 alone, the man hours by just two club members were 320. The club total for 2018 was 1,580 hours, just for trail clearing and bridge building, and LaFrance says they hold about 20 workbees on the COTT a year.
BCHBC-NC has also received many grants and donations from local and provincial clubs and organizations over the years to help them move forward with this project.
At this point, the BCHBC have installed three kiosks and the new trailhead. Over the years, five bridges and two boardwalks have been built or are in the process of being built. BCHBC-NC members have used existing logging roads, have connected trails and have constructed trails to provide a safe and interesting continuity between the heritage sections of the trail.
BCHBC-NC is looking forward to showing the community all the work they’ve done on the COTT and sharing the trail with other users when they host the COTT Opening Celebration this weekend.
There will be a potluck social Friday, June 14 at 5 p.m. at 2995 Sanford Rd. at the Burkes’ home.
On Saturday, June 15 at 9 a.m., there will be an opening ceremony and commemoration of Dwight Dodge and his life legacy of keeping the COTT alive at the COTT trailhead.
At 10 a.m., everyone is welcome to ride, hike and walk Dwight’s Loop in Dwight Dodge’s honour. The ride/walk will depart from the COTT trailhead.
On Sunday, June 16, a ride/walk will depart from the kiosk at Goose Lake at 11 a.m. Everyone is welcome to ride, hike or walk and view the monument and the 25-mile cabin.