Horses were tied to the new hitching rails and hikers gathered with their trekking poles at the new Collins Overland Telegraph Trail (COTT) trailhead on Blackwater Road, just past Rawlings Road, as a group of horseback riders and hikers prepared to celebrate the opening of the trail with a 3.5-hour ride/walk Saturday morning (June 15) under sunny skies.
The Back Country Horsemen of British Columbia North Cariboo Chapter (BCHBC-NC) led the ride/walk to celebrate the opening of the COTT after six years of work. As of May 18, the 58-kilometre section of the COTT from Rawlings Road to the Blackwater Crossing is now ridable from end to end.
“None of this would happen without the thousands of hours of work from volunteers and partners,” chapter chair Rob LaFrance said, as the riders and hikers gathered at the new trailhead before departing on a ride/hike around Dwight’s Loop, a section of trail dedicated to Dwight Dodge, who ran the Telegraph Trail Preservation Society from 1953 until 2006, and continued working on the trail after the society disbanded. Dodge also published the book The History of the Telegraph Trail.
“The North Cariboo Chapter was created primarily for taking ownership of the COTT and resurrecting it,” said LaFrance. “When we started having conversations with Dwight Dodge, he was like a little kid, so happy that people were continuing the work he started. I think I got the bug he got because I can’t wait for spring when the first people get on the trail.”
In the past six years, members of the BCHBC-NC have done a lot of upgrades to the trail, built bridges, rerouted the trail and built the new trailhead, which is located one kilometre past Rawlings Road on the gravel section of Blackwater Road.
“We’ve just opened up this section to the Blackwater Crossing, and 27 kilometres was rerouted,” said LaFrance, explaining that the Blackwater Road covered parts of the trail, and the busy logging road was just too unsafe, so they had to reroute part of the trail to make it safe for everyone to use.
BCHBC-NC members have worked hard to make the trail accessible to equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers. 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.
The COTT was originally used by packers, prospectors, miners, speculators, merchants and even entertainers as they travelled north in search of gold in the late 1800s.
During the opening, LaFrance also unveiled a dedication plaque to honour Dwight Dodge, which he will get mounted.
“Without him, none of this would be possible,” said LaFrance. “If he hadn’t started in 1953, we wouldn’t even know where the trail was because it would be so overgrown. He was so excited to see other people working on the trail. His family has been great. They’re happy we are remembering him.”
Linda Buchanan, a volunteer with BCHBC who is also vice-chair of the BCHBC executive and the trails committee chair for BCHBC, congratulated the local chapter on all the work they’ve done on this project.
“It’s so exciting what you guys have accomplished,” she said. “We’re thrilled to support the development of the Blackwater Road staging area and the redevelopment of 58 kilometres of the COTT. The COTT has so much history of connection. This community, the partnerships and its numerous volunteers exemplify that working together, what you can accomplish. I’d like to thank all you volunteers who helped restore this historic trail back to life.”
For this work on the COTT, BCHBC-NC received an Outstanding Project Award from BCHBC.
BCHBC has 21 chapters, and almost every chapter is working on a large project, so it is a significant honour to win this award, explained long-time BCHBC member Rose Schroeder, adding that these awards don’t have to be given out every year.
“When [a project] comes along like this that is so important, it’s a shoe-in,” said Schroeder, who is also a director with the Horse Council of BC, which has supported the project as well. “I really congratulate you guys. It’s such an amazing thing to see that come together and get done.”
Along with support from provincial bodies like BCHBC and the Horse Council of BC, BCHBC-NC has received a lot of support locally for this project.
On behalf of the Quesnel Community Foundation (QCF) and the Rotary Club of Quesnel, Simon Turner congratulated the BCHBC-NC members on this accomplishment.
The QCF provided a $10,000 grant to the BCHBC-NC this year, which Turner says is one of the largest grants the foundation has given out.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s money well spent,” said Turner, who was a member of this year’s QCF grant committee. “The application from Rob is probably the most comprehensive grant application I’ve seen. The conversation essentially went ‘What do we think about that? We love it.’”
The Rotary Club of Quesnel also provided a grant to BCHBC-NC this year, and Turner, who was recently installed as the club’s new president, says this project fits well with both the 2018-19 theme of “be an inspiration” and the theme for the next year, which is “Rotary connects the world.”
“There is no way Rotary can be anything but inspired by the sheer amount of work that has gone into this project,” he said.
“We had to be a part of what a fantastic project that not only preserves a certain level of history but also sets up the recreational side of things as well, as the use of the trails helps preserve them.”