Local Industry Works With Rec Site

(Published in the Prince George Citizen – January 2015 – Reprinted With Permission)
 Local Industry Works To Establish Tabor Mountain As A Giant Rec Site

The north shore mountains look so close from downtown Vancouver you could touch them, but with all the traffic, the bridges, the stop signs, the long and winding roads upwards, it takes an effort to actually get there.

In Prince George, Tabor Mountain is 30 minutes away and on all sides ofthe tallest natural feature in the immeadiate area, recreation facilities are being built along side of the ones already there. It has world-class downhill skiing and boarding, thanks to major upgrades to the Tabor Mountain Ski Resort  in preparation for the 2015 Canada Winter Games events. It has wheelchair accessible touring trails. It has a snowmobile clubhouse that is also home to ATV riders and horseback enthusiasts. There are hundreds of kilometres of trails for Nordic skiing and hiking. Cabins, lookout points, and small lakes dot the Tabor landscape. You can even hit one wilderness thoroughfare through the woods and rolling mountains directly into downtown historic Barkerville.

It is an all seasons rural playground right in the backyard of the city.

Nothing about these facilities is accidental or haphazard. The initial stages of development date back to the middle of the 20th century when a division of the Sons of Norway association first started cutting trails for skiing and walking. Other recreation groups carved out a spot here and there for their various activities. But over time there were mergers of interest and eventually the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society and a key employee of the provincial government drove forward a planning campaign to consolidate the vision for what would be one of Canada’s premier multi-use outdoor lifestyle facilities.

“Yes, it is the biggest urban outdoor recreation site that we know of, but it was also the biggest conflict between user groups,” said Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (Sites and Trails of BCdivision) recreation officer, Mikel Leclerc, the unofficial leader of the Tabor Mountain initiative. “You could write a book on the mini-successes that added up into the overall plan we now have documented – where one group was at odds with another group, but they worked it our, or some few individuals did important work, went to extraordinary lengths to bring this forward. It could have failed, very easily, but people were passionate and in the end, everyone wanted to see this happen, even the ones who were worried they had something to lose.”

Proprietary negotiations had to take place with a number of forest companies, for example. Tabor Mountain is so big it has several cell and radio towers, many roads, gravel extraction and mining claims, farms, a proposed hydro line, private homes, and many areas of active logging by the likes of Carrier Lumber and Canfor.

Leclerc would give no details but disclosed that these industrial players were the most resistant to an overarching recreational plan, essentially worrying that it would block them from fulfilling their wood harvesting obligations or it would invite liability onto them in the name of someone else’s recreational aspirations.

Suffice to say, said Leclerc, this eventually got ironed out.

“I tried to do what I could to reduce the conflicts and step forward with the tools of the provincial government to move things forward. Who likes fighting anyway?”

Public forums were held to foster the best ideas, smoke out the problems, and boost the communications between all the diverse interest groups with a stake in Tabor Mountain. The last one “was a packed house and it was unanimous,”said Steve Dubas, a local member of the Horse Council of BC (one of the Tabor user groups) and the President of the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society that formed around the collective dreams of the place.

Other key leaders in the society were Randy Ellenchuk of the Prince George ATV club, Norm Clark of the Sons of Norway Ski Club, Bob Bullock of the PG Horse Society, April Bilawchuk who worked with Leclerc at the ministry, and professional forester Ken Hodges, who authored the definitive feasibility study that is now the group’s working document.

Under the society, nine recreation groups have collective control over 27 staging areas, 407 kilometres of trails, and many more features.
“One of the first things we had to do as a group was to decide on priorities,” said Dubas. “We have a lot of things we want to do, but there are a lot of things already done, and that needed to be maintained. There was a huge need to rehabilitate a lot of the trails. There was blowdown, hanging trees, a lot of public safety concern. We have a hard time maintaining everything we have now, but with the working plan and the partnership agreement, we can focus our attention with some certainty. We definitely need money, but since everything got sorted out, we have forest companies and other contractors who happen to be working in the area donating thousands of dollars to us in the use of their equipment, materials, and labour just because they were in that area and knew there was a need for something. Now that the decisions have been made by the government, the attitude of those companies – even the ones that were opposed to this – is right on board with us. It is powerful. We are just in awe.”

Carrier Lumber spontaneously helped to build a key new bridge. Forbes Construction built most of a parking lot and another bridge. Canfor built some roads.
“even contractors who have almost zero profit margin in that place will still give of themselves because they’ve heard what we plan to do here and they see the public benefit,” said Leclerc.

On the north slope of the mountain, alongside Highway 16, is where the Tabor Mountain Ski Resort is located. Although it is the biggest single private enterprise on the mountain, it still takes up only a sliver of the overall footprint. The designated recreation area is about 35,000 hectares. The mountain’s peak has an elevation of 1,240 metres.

It is heavily forested in some areas, open meadow in others, possessing about a dozen small lakes and large Tabor lake at the foot of the mountain, with rolling hills, wetlands, and several creeks around its perimeter, ample wildlife, and breathtaking views in every direction aided by cabins and lookout points. It was a well used area by the Lheidli T’ennah First Nation and all these plans have been made with early and ongoing consultation with the LTFN administration.

Its an old adage that when even small groups put aside differences and work together, they can move mountains. Perhaps that’s true in extreme cases, said this initiative’s main organizers, but better yet you can move self-interested fear out of the way and discover a whole mountain waiting to be enjoyed within minutes of downtown Prince George.