Opening Access to Hudson Hope’s Trail Network
Small rural communities often lack the resources to operate a comprehensive portfolio of traditional municipal recreation opportunities. Smaller budgets, limited staff and lower population base, along with incomplete or older facilities make it hard to offer plentiful registered programs that operate in house.
To aid a municipality with its offerings, it can be advantageous to market and utilize the outdoor playground your community comes by naturally to grow recreation within the municipality. Utilizing this physical asset – your natural environment – to engage your citizens, build community, and drive physical activity outside of a facility can lead to increased self-guided recreation if you have the right mix of documentation, maintenance, outreach, and engagement.
The Playground of the Peace
Hudson’s Hope (the District) is situated on the Peace River, with two hydroelectric reservoirs, rolling foothills, and mountains within its boundaries. In 2013 the District re-branded itself as the “Playground of the Peace” to better reflect the diverse outdoor opportunities that are present throughout the region and the varied landscapes and topography that make this possible.
Like many northern communities, the opportunities for outdoor pursuits in the District are endless. One of the most obvious you’ll notice just by looking at the landscape, or hear about when speaking to a resident, are the many beautiful hiking trails that span the region, and are just waiting to be explored.
Prior to 2019, for someone new coming into town or searching online, information on the majority of trails in and around the region was completely unavailable. Instead, this knowledge was limited to the locals ‘in the know’, and shared mostly through verbal exchanges between residents. Trail signage was poor or missing, trail heads lacked markers, directions to the trails were limited, and trail conditions and features were mostly unknown unless you hiked the area frequently.
A map to adventure
In 2018, the District utilized a grant from Northern Health to fund the mapping of 16 trails in the area, complete with elevation profile, trail directions, trail information, total return length, and permitted uses on that trail. The motivation for the project came the year before, in 2017, when the District created a new staff position with a focus on creating municipal recreation opportunities. Previously the District operated only Special Events on a contract basis. The new staffer applied for the grant but left the position before news was received on the success of our application. I myself came into the role shortly after the funds were awarded.
Identifying the gap between local knowledge and readily available information for non-locals, the trail mapping project was a natural step to take on, and support the District’s evolution as the “Playground of the Peace”. Not only would it make local recreation more accessible to newcomers, but also promote the region as a day or weekend destination to those in surrounding communities.
Hiking as community development
As the trail mapping project got underway the District’s recreation department also began a Summer Hike Series pilot project led by a local resident with a passion for exploring the area who knew the trails and access points well. That summer, eight guided hikes were offered to a total of 68 participants, which saw an average of 8-9 people per hike.
As a compliment to the physical maps being created, the goal of the Summer Hike Series was to develop:
- Directions and route information for accessing trail heads.
- Advertisements for individual hikes including trail information, elevation, and total distance to create a clear picture of what hikers could expect.
- The confidence of participants by grouping those with varied hiking abilities and experience together on each hike to increase confidence on the trails as well as participants’ awareness of safety.
- Appropriate levels of preparedness of hikers by providing them information before each hike about what they could expect and what they should bring with them.
- A sense of adventure among locals by utilizing social media. The Summer Hike Series Facebook posts and events created for each hike were the District’s most popular, with the highest engagement of all the District events listed.
Lessons learned through the first Summer Hike Series included realizing that using specific wording that described all aspects of the hike, including driving distance to the trail head, the trail conditions, and estimated hike time were very important when advertising a hike; and that the safety and support experienced in the group hiking environment encouraged less experienced hikers who were enthusiastic but who, in some cases, were not always prepared for the difficulty of a trail or had not packed appropriately.
There was one unsuccessful hike in the first year where the fitness level of a participant did not allow them to reach the summit and thus prevented the whole group from summiting. To make sure this didn’t occur in year two of the series, we developed a new fitness level requirement warning and included it on all hike advertisements, as well as very detailed information about the hike. The hike leaders also buffed up their pre-hike talks to make it very clear what was expected, and to gently remind hikers to know their limits.
Moving into 2019, the District decided the trail maps needed to now become brochures. Prior to this, the local Visitor Center had no information in hard copy about any of the trails in the District and surrounding area. As a design company worked on the brochure collection, the Summer Hike Series moved into year two.
By mid-September 2019, the series had offered five hikes, with a total of 68 participants, for an average of 14 people per hike – almost doubling the participation from year one to year two. We also focused on longer hikes in the area – hikes that were 3km or more and expanded the opportunities to participate by offering hikes on varying Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate a wider range of schedules.
We were also able to identify return hikers who had participated in year one – half of which were from outside of the District. These visitors had come specifically to hike! In fact, the report from our Visitor Centre is that questions about hiking are now asked almost daily. For these visitors, the hike series has offered them insights into the community through interactions with their guide and other hikers in the group. It has also fostered an opportunity to connect with new people, and share information about other hikes while providing a safe space to explore the “Playground of the Peace”.
For the residents who joined a hike, the majority had not been on that hike before. They too had the opportunity to explore the area in a safe way, and build their confidence in their hiking abilities so they would be more likely to come back to that trail on their own, with friends, or try a different trail with their newfound knowledge.
As the second year of the series winds down, Hudson’s Hope is now the only municipality in Northeast BC offering free, guided hikes. As we continue to collect these measurable indicators of success, we know we have definitively raised the profile of hiking in the District.
As of August 2019, the District is now in possession of a completed collection of brochures of 14 trails, as well as a new Trail Systems Guide. Each brochure includes a photo of the trail head, cover photo of the main feature of the trail or view, specific trail access directions, return length, complete elevation profile, GPS and UTM coordinates, trail rating, description, and a list of other available trails.
The creation of the trail brochures has solved many of the issues surrounding general access to, and knowledge of, District trails. Trail head signage is still limited, but clearly laid out directions are going a long way to mitigate this issue, thanks to the summer students who hiked the trails and placed orange trail markers where appropriate to aid route finding and direction. Residents and visitors can now venture onto new trails with confidence.
The ‘Playground of the Peace’ is an integral part of community recreation and physical activity
This small rural community has increased the reach of its recreation department, and opened up the region to long term residents, new residents, and visitors alike. By opening access to our trails, we have successfully created a year-round opportunity that builds community while empowering residents and visitors to be physically active.
With the growing amount of interest in the District’s guided hikes, our continued engagement, and the flow of new followers to our Facebook page, we expect the introduction of these brochures to further increase hiking activity in the District on a self-guided basis.
For all those considering making the trip up north, make sure to visit our Visitor Center and grab a brochure if you are in the area. They will also be available online with our next website update! And if you are in the region come summer 2020, the Summer Hike Series is planned to continue. We would love for you to hike with us!
About the Author:
Kaitlyn Atkinson is the Recreation and Special Events Coordinator for the District of Hudson’s Hope, in Northeast B.C. Trailblazing the position since January 2018, she is proud to be creating a recreational department that continues to grow and offer more to the community each year. Collaborating with community groups, to build better programs and events has been key to this endeavor. Kaitlyn grew up utilizing municipal recreation and is passionate about its ability to build community. Kaitlyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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