First Journey Trails CEO, Thomas Schoen, shows how the new features are accessible for beginners or skilled riders. Ronan O’Doherty photo

New Quesnel mountain bike trails are complete

Thomas Schoen says support from community during building process surprised him

Thomas Schoen, CEO of First Journey Trails, says there is a rule of thumb within the mountain bike world: once a community has approximately 30 kilometres of trails, out-of-towners will start to travel to there.

The City of Quesnel and the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) recently built 12 kilometres of cutting-edge trail, which brings the area’s total to well over 30, so next spring should see an influx of tourists coming to see one of the central Interior’s new hot spots.

The Wonderland trail complex is located just east of Dragon Lake and has a stunning view of the water from the trailhead.

Schoen walks up one of the complex’s latest trails on a beautiful fall day.

Mucho Oro is a 1.9 -kilometre machine-built trail suitable to beginner and intermediate riders that can also be enjoyable for the most skilled mountain biker. It winds from side to side across the hill, with berms and rugged wooden features located intermittently.

All the lumber used to add the features came from the very hill the riders will careen down.

“The cut is all onsite,” Schoen says, “which is really cool. A lot of dead trees that were nearby were turned into trail features.”

“We just utilized stuff like this,” he says, pointing to a fallen log, “We cut it up to save on material costs and also to use material that’s right from the site.”

Similar trails on Dragon Mountain, which were also completed this year, relied on donations from West Fraser Timber Co. as the site is on BC Parks land, so the use of on-site lumber was prohibited.

As Schoen walks further up the hill, he points out the various ways skilled riders can get a little bit more out of the trail: a jump here, a higher line on a berm there.

“You don’t need tons of skill to ride [Mucho Oro]; as long as you control your speed and know how to brake properly, you can totally ride this trail,” he said. “Even kids can ride it, but then an advanced rider, someone who’s really good, he gets these little jumps and more speed in certain sections.”

He adds this seems to be the direction trail building is going: making runs accessible yet still challenging.

While Mucho Oro is completed, Schoen says it is still a little soft and will need a few months before it is perfect to ride on.

“Next year we’ll come and we’ll rake the whole trail,” he says, picking up little branches as he walks, “Now we’ll just leave it and hopefully we get a fair amount of snow on it and that really makes it sustainable. It really packs in and you get the moisture in. This is going to become like pavement.”

As he crosses through the moss-carpeted forest to another new trail, Schoen gushes about the experience working in Quesnel.

“It was nothing short of amazing,” he exclaims sincerely. “In 11 years of doing this work and working with stakeholders up and down the province, this community absolutely blew me away.

“The hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours was really fantastic. I have to give kudos to John Courtney, the president of the [Gold Rush Cycling] club. They’ve done an amazing job in organizing these volunteer days, and that’s true for both networks, Dragon Mountain and Wonderland.

He also had some kind words for the City of Quesnel

“Having a trails coordinator from the city made all the difference. Having Ian [van Leusden] in this position for me to liaison with was just great.”

Schoen made sure to involve the local Indigenous population in the work too.

“The Lhtako Dene First Nation crew helped with this,” he says. “That was such an amazing experience. Those guys worked so hard, and they’re really cool guys, so the partnership worked out really well.”

It was the commitment from the whole community that really surprised him, however.

“They went out of their way,” he says. “Not even with volunteer work but looking after my crews — offering them a hot shower in the evening, inviting them to their houses for dinner, coming out here and bringing them a case of Gatorade — that was way beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. Generally, people are happy when we come and they do engage, but here, it was just on a whole other level.”

As he walks down Angry Beaver, another new 1.2-kilometre trail, which is a little bit more technical, with some rocky features and steep sections, Schoen discusses where these trails rank in B.C.

“They’re very similar to newer trails that are built all over the province,” he points out. “But, I would say they are more unique for the Interior.

“In Williams Lake, Prince George or 100 Mile House, we don’t really have anything like this. For example, [Mucho Oro] is more like a bike park trail. It is something you would find at Sunpeaks [in Kamloops] or Whistler.”

He says that type of trail will draw people in from all over the region. Schoen adds the new climbing trail at Dragon Mountain might be even more special, in his opinion.

“I think that it will actually attract people from all over the province,” he notes. “That is such a unique trail. It’s just a long, beautiful climbing trail, and that is what travelling mountain bikers are looking for.

“The terrain on Dragon Mountain is [unlike] everything else we have here in the Interior — lots of rocks, gnarlier, more difficult downhill trails — so there’s a big market for that type of experience. You just don’t find that in a lot of communities, so people can make a weekend out of it.”

He says riders who would come visit would certainly go for a few runs on Dragon Mountain on one day and then perhaps try Wonderland on another.

“I would travel to Nelson with my wife for a long weekend to ride something just like that.”

He says the City and the CRD are planning on building more trails in the near future, and he applauds the initiative but says maintenance must be kept in mind before construction gets underway.

“The biggest problem with all the new construction is always maintenance capacity,” he says. “You just can’t go overboard and build miles and miles of new trails if there’s no capacity to keep them up.

“It’s time consuming and if you hire a pro crew, like my guys, it’s costly, so typically it’s something a club would take on, but then you have to look at how large your community is and how much capacity you have.”

Schoen thinks the best idea is a connector trail between Wonderland and Dragon Mountain. It would be a long, cross-country trail that would be enticing to riders who really want a full day out on the slopes.

Angry Beaver, Woodburry’s Way and Sluice Box are all new trails ready to ride on the Wonderland trail network.

Walk in the Park and Rockin’ the Park are completed at Dragon Mountain.

READ MORE: Happy Trails ahead for Quesnel mountain bikers

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