Thomas Schoen of First Journey Trails inspects an under-construction hand-built trail in the Wonderland network. Ronan O’Doherty photo

Happy Trails ahead for Quesnel mountain bikers

Construction is underway on five new trails in the Wonderland and Dragon Mountain networks

It will not be long before riders of all ages will be hucking jumps and getting pinned on some professionally built mountain bike trails in the Quesnel area.

After much paperwork, many proposals and plenty of planning, construction is well underway on five mountain bike trails in the Wonderland and Dragon Lake networks.

“It’s been a long time in the making,” said a relieved Ian Van Leusden, on his first tour of the Wonderland site since construction began.

The City of Quesnel trail coordinator has spent the last three years sending countless emails and dealing with different levels of government, so was almost in a state of disbelief to be walking through the site and seeing some actual work being done.

“To see Thomas [Schoen] and his crew out here actually putting shovels and machines into the ground is pretty spectacular.”

Schoen is the owner of First Journey Trails. He organized the tour for Van Leusden, John Courtney, the president of the Gold Rush Cycling Club and the Observer.

He has been with the two advocates every step of the way and was contracted to design a trail master plan.

Looking up from the trail head, he marvels at the work being done on Mucho Oro, a machine built trail being constructed by Kelowna’s Andrew McIntosh with the use of a mini-excavator. Despite having probably seen hundreds of machine built trails in his life, the craftsmanship of any properly built trail still brings him great joy and he praised the work of McIntosh, while describing how it came about.

Schoen said the pair hiked a line First Journey Trails had flagged on the network and McIntosh pointed out what worked and where changes would be necessary.

“He would say, ‘This spot is too wet,’ or, ‘I’m going to do too much damage if I drive through here,’ or, ‘It’s going to be way better if we swing the trail out to the right and we can build a nice berm or a nice corner or that sort of thing.’”

Schoen said the process was quite thorough and took a couple of days to decide where to reflag it.

“For a few days he ran a saw, he hiked it, he bucked it all up, so now we can actually start the digging process,” Schoen added.

“We’ll see a lot of progress here within the next few days because now he’s perfectly ready to actually build the trail.”

Schoen said that it is hard to judge how long it is going to take, but that it could be anywhere between four and six weeks.

The building process for most trail builders is similar. They will put a trail in from the bottom to the top and ensure that it is about 70 per cent finished to the standards they would like at completion.

Then they will slowly work their way back down the hill, raking and hand-finishing the trail behind themselves.

“What that does is it creates a trail on top that’s completely finished and that he doesn’t touch again with his machine,” Schoen said.

Mucho Oro is one of four new trails which will be built at Wonderland this year. The site, which overlooks Dragon Lake, is located off of Quesnel-Hydraulic Road. It’s proximity to the city is a major plus for local riders.

“It’s going to be an awesome network for the community being so close to town and just minutes from Dragon Lake,” said Van Leusden. “I think this network is going to see a lot of use over the years and be very beneficial.

“I hope this is going to be the first trail building project of many for the community of Quesnel over the next couple of years.”

One of the most exciting part of the project is the use of many different builders with varying styles.

“We wanted to create a variety of trails,” said Schoen, “If it was just my guys and my company and no sub-contractors, the trails would all have a similar feel and a similar flair because we’ve been building together for so long it would all be First Journey style .

“And with having so many projects on the go in one year, it’s nice to mix it up a bit.”

Courtney, who runs mountain bike clinics in the city, agrees with Schoen’s assessment.

“Every trail you ride is somebody’s artistic vision of how to work with the terrain and how to work with the trees and how to work with that gully.

“It’s a creative outlet and so it’s a neat thing to have four different trail building crews building each of these trails. Each one will have it’s own character and it’s own flavour and there’s going to be something here for everybody from beginners to expert level riders, so this is great.”

He was also giddy with excitement at the prospect of seeing all the hard work coming to fruition.

“Having a purpose built mountain bike specific trail feels very, very different than a trail that was designed by a deer that somebody raked out and started riding,” he said.

“But then to have machine built trails as well and see the flow that’s inherent,” he exclaimed, before taking a breath.

“I lead the kids mountain bike classes every year and I know where they’re at and where their strength and coordination is at and I see what they need in trails. And this is it! This is what they need!

“This is what gets families out mountain biking on the weekend; this is what builds the riding community and the more you have infrastructure like this the more people are likely to become active for life.”

Dragon Mountain is a short drive south from the Wonderland Trail Network.

It is located within a provincial park, so a partnership agreement needed to be reached between the Gold Rush Cycling Club and BC Parks to maintain the existing trails.

“That makes it really unique in the province,” says Schoen, “There has been very little mountain bike specific trail building in any B.C. park.”

As can be imagined there were quite a few hoops to jump through in order to make it happen.

All parties present said it was a tedious process and it took a lot of time for B.C. parks to agree and sign off on the project but now that it is done, nobody cares to dwell on the trouble it took.

“It’s exciting and it’s something that the whole province will look at as a model for bike trail development in B.C. parks,” said Schoen.

“Typically BC Parks was always very anti-mountain biking, or anti any users other than hikers, so having this happen is a really big deal.”

A climbing line, which is a low grade trail to make it easier to access the top of the mountain is being built and the existing trails are being brought into line with the standards set out by International Mountain Bike of Canada.

The climbing line will be half machine built and half hand built. Renowned Williams Lake mountain biker James Doerfling is tackling the machine building section at the bottom, while First Journey Trails are taking care of the hand built section at the top.

“I think this is going to be really popular,’ said Schoen. “It’s super wide and it’s really easy. You could have a kid on a run bike roll down this trail. It’s exactly the type of feel that we’re going for.

“And on the way up this is really easy to climb. There are no technical challenges, the grade is really low, so this is going to make for a really nice machine built trail.”

All the trails are expected to be completed by the end of October and a grand opening of the new trails is planned for slightly beforehand.

Once the individual trails are finished being built however, they will be open to the public.

Happy riding.

READ MORE: Exciting year ahead for North Cariboo Trail Development Program

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