It would be difficult to find more than a handful of people in the Cariboo region more passionate about mountain biking than Thomas Schoen.
Originally from Germany, the bright-eyed and bushy-mustached cycling aficionado perks up as soon as the activity is mentioned.
His voice raises a decibel or two and he enthusiastically starts sharing his deep knowledge of the scene and how much it matters to the community.
Through his company, First Journey Trails, he has been tasked by the City of Quesnel and the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) with putting together a trail master plan for the proposed improvements to the existing trails at Dragon Lake and the Wonderland area.
According to Ian Van Leusden, trail co-ordinator for the City of Quesnel and the CRD, the Rural Dividend Fund provided a grant to the area that will be used towards enhancing these trails and bringing them up to the Whistler standard of mountain bike trails.
To explain what he is undertaking, Schoen likens himself to an architect designing a blue print.
“If you’re building a house, your architect would draw up the blue prints and then you can hand it to any contractor, so that document is good for the RFP process, if they want to put it out for a bid to trail building companies,” he says.
Venture into the bush behind Dragon Lake in the coming weeks and you might find Thomas and his crew inventorying all the existing trails to determine what needs to be actioned.
“Right now we’re out on Dragon Mountain,” he says. “We’re hiking all each trail and taking a million photos and a lot of notes and we’re putting down, ‘This needs to be replaced and this section needs to be re-routed because it’s going through a wet area.’”
Schoen points out the importance of addressing the natural habitat as carefully as possible.
“Where a trail turns into a creek bed, we might be digging drainage ditches or replacing some wooden structures or some bridges to get mountain bikers off the ground and out of wet area. [The plan] will improve the safety of the riders but it will also address environmental concerns.”
Once his team has completed the survey, Schoen says the city will end up with a 150-200 page document that will spell out in detail what needs to be addressed to bring things up to standard and to make the trails more accessible and environmentally sound.
“That document is a future construction document,” Schoen says. “But at the same time the city has a document that they can approach B.C. Parks [which manages the Dragon Mountain section] with or the Ministry of Recreation Sites and Trails for the Wonderland area and they can ask for approval to have work done. Whether it is maintenance work or additional trail construction, they will have a guideline.”
Schoen says the city is hoping that construction on the improvements for Dragon Mountain will happen next year, but within his guidelines he is also planning to spell out a phase two and perhaps a phase three, which he says could happen five years down the road if this project is successful.
“It’s really exciting for the city to have this master plan, so we can identify what it is the community wants,” he says. “And when we look at new trail construction we always have visiting riders in mind too.
“That’s where the economic impact comes in,” he insists; “People will travel to Quesnel to ride here because it’s so unique for the Cariboo.
“You’ve got a relatively high mountain, so lots of elevation drop and what makes it unique for mountain bikers is just the terrain and the features. There are a lot of rocks and big rock rows.
“Typically riders from the Interior would have to travel to Squamish, Pemberton or Whistler to get that type of riding, so it’s really, really cool.”
He stresses that local riders are being accounted for as well, noting the involvement of the Gold Rush Cycling Club.
Van Leusden, who sits on the board for the club, has some clear ideas for what they would like to see.
“We are looking for more intermediate and beginner trails to improve the networks that are existing,” he says. “The networks on Wonderland and Dragon Mountain are both geared more towards advanced riders.”
He says the City of Quesnel and the CRD are invested in increasing ridership, and having trails that are more accessible to beginner riders would help immensely in their goals to get people out into the wilderness to take part in leisure sports.
Gold Rush Cycling Club is growing and re-branding.
“We’re up to 70 members this year and with new improvements to our trails, mountain biking is taking a big leaps forward in Quesnel.”
A healthy ridership is paramount for healthy trails, Schoen says.
“Trails take a lot of maintenance work and land managers like B.C. Parks and Rec Sites and Trails want to make sure the community can support them.
“You’re not going to get funding for new trail development if you don’t have a very solid maintenance plan.”
Schoen draws attention to when funding was given to small northern communities in the past.
“It happened in Wells and Barkerville, where $150,000 was spent on trails eight years ago and there are no mountain bikers up there.
“You’ve got [approximately] 100 people living in Wells and there’s not enough of a scene.
“Whereas the stronger that club is and the more members they have, the more you can make an argument that you can support this as a community.”
Schoen says the region is going through an exciting phase now and theses developments could not come at a better time.
“I’ve been the president of the Cariboo Mountain Biking Consortium for many years and we always wanted to see Quesnel growing because Williams Lake has such a strong mountain biking presence and it’s fabulous to have more communities within the same corridor,” he says.
“You just get more visitors coming and we can help each other out.
“It’s really cool that this is happening after years and years of pushing.”