Shuswap’s amazing network of trails a success thanks to community collaboration

by Jim Cooperman

Shuswap’s amazing network of trails a success thanks to community collaboration

by Jim Cooperman

If the pandemic has resulted in a positive impact, it would be that many of us have become better connected to our home place. Forced to stay home, more people are using the local trails to hike, bike, ski, and snowshoe. Fortunately, here in the Shuswap we have an amazing network of trails, thanks in part to the work of the Shuswap Trail Alliance.

In just 15 years, the Trail Alliance has grown from a small group of volunteers to become one of the most important organizations in our community that has invested nearly 5.5-million dollars’ worth of grants, donations and in-kind services to construct 143 kilometres of new trails. The key to its success is the organization’s dedication to collaboration, as it has involved nearly every group that has an interest in the recreational use of local public lands.

The first step was the formation of an advisory group with representation from local governments, First Nations, economic and tourism groups, recreation organizations and other associations. After a yearlong study to examine the viability of the vision and determine how communities and groups could work together to develop a system of trails and waterway routes, the Trail Alliance was formally incorporated as a non-profit society in November 2005.

After a year of planning, the first Shuswap Trail Strategy was developed that proposed an ambitious 5-year program that would link existing plans with new ones to create a unified vision of active, healthy communities with a commitment to stewardship and ecological integrity, respect for First Nation values and heritage and ongoing consultations and partnerships.

By 2010, the Trail Alliance had become the focal point for regional trail development and management leadership with many successes including a standards manual of best practices for trail design, commitment for unified signage standards, training programs, a dedicated volunteer base, partnerships with local government for new trails, the identification of over 300 kms of proposed trails and greenway corridors and the construction of over 50 kms of new trails.

When the trail strategy was updated in 2015, one of the outcomes was the creation of a roundtable that would provide opportunities for a larger, more diverse group that includes the motorized recreation sector to help guide future trail planning and use. Meeting yearly, with a working group that meet quarterly, the Shuswap Regional Trails Roundtable works with all levels of government, and Secwepemc representatives to provide strategic, collaborative direction, feedback and participation in the many trail initiatives now underway.

To provide a better understanding of the amount of collaboration that occurs in expanding the trail network, consider how in 2019 there were over 50 organizations and hundreds of individuals and volunteers involved, with financial support from over 130 sponsors and funding partners.

The existing network of 75 hiking and biking trails and trail systems are managed by either the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) as part of its parks program, the municipalities, BC Parks or Rec Sites and Trails BC. For most of the newer trails, the STA helped with the planning and/or supervised the construction. A trail guide is produced by the STA in partnership with Shuswap Tourism and there is also an online version at shuswaptrails.com.

We can all look forward to a future filled with opportunities for nature-based recreation, because of the Trail Alliance’s dedication to its vision of “establishing the entire Shuswap watershed as a united destination centre known for its active lifestyle, vibrant culture, natural beauty and commitment to ecological sustainability.”

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