Thursday, May 08, 2008

A walk in the woods could take you all the way to Smithers!

While the plans are only in the discussion phase, the wheels are in motion to begin working out a route along the PNG right of way for a wilderness trail stretching from Prince Rupert to Smithers.

With hopes of appealing to the eco-tourist and provide a unique destination for those that like their nature raw and adventurous. It’s a daunting project with many possible setbacks but the proponents of it are excited of the possibilities that the trail could offer for both locals and visitors from afar.

The Terrace Standard featured the project in its May 7th edition and posted it to their website.

Northwest trail could be ecotourism hot spot
By Dustin Quezada

Terrace Standard
May 07, 2008

PRELIMINARY WORK is underway to determine the viability of creating what could one day become a mecca for outdoor recreationalists to the Northwest.

The concept would see the creation of a world class hiking and biking trail twinning the Pacific Northern Gas line right-of-way.

“This could be spectacular,” said Kermodei Tourism’s George Clark, who has compared the proposal’s potential to the famous West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island. “If it were to work, it would be a real jewel of tourism (here).”

In the world of tourism, Clark says adventure tourism is the fastest growing type and it is underdeveloped in the region.

“Europeans are crazy about [adventure tourism],” Clark said. “With Americans travelling less and less out of the country, we have to target Europeans.”

What the local tourism outfit wants to explore is the creation of a trail twinning the line that stretches about 275 kilometres from Prince Rupert to Smithers and beyond.

The line runs up the Telkwa Pass, then skirts the Skeena River’s south bank before it crosses the river where the Kasiks River empties into the Skeena and continues west to Prince Rupert through rugged wilderness.

Tom Leach, coordinator of lands and right-of-ways for PNG, says he doesn’t know of any other similar project but he sees the merits of looking at its pros and cons. The Terrace-based Leach was approached in January with the idea and he recently gave the go-ahead to look into its feasibility.

“As a citizen, it’s definitely worth exploring the possibility,” said Leach adding the trail, an average of 18 metres wide, is already used unofficially by recreationalists.

He adds there are benefits to PNG, too, to having more people around its gas pipeline.
“On the safety side, there would be more eyes and noses out there to detect if there is a leak. It never hurts to have unofficial (help),” Leach said.

However, Leach cautions there are safety concerns on the other side with increased use because PNG wouldn’t want the path opened to vehicle traffic. Liability issues would have to be addressed for PNG to give its blessing.

“Liability is a concern for everybody,” said Clark. “The trail has to be a safe trail. The risk has to be minimized.”

As for the trail itself, it needs an on-the-ground inspection, which will be done using topographical maps provided by PNG.

“Basically, the idea is to see if parts or all of the PNG right-of-way are suitable for a hiking or biking trail,” said Clark. “It could be only parts are suitable.”

The assessment will identify trail sections that are not cleared or unstable. In those areas, Clark said, small suspension bridges might be in order or, where possible, there may be logging roads to link the trail to.

At the Kasiks crossing, Clark said operators of the Kasiks Lodge have hinted a boat shuttle could become part of the trail infrastructure.

Clark is in the process of putting a committee together with stakeholders. He hopes to have tourism people in Prince Rupert and Smithers represented, as well as First Nations bands and outdoor recreation groups.

And he hopes as a group to have the length of the trail checked out this year.
“Obviously, it’s very ambitious but we’re excited. It’s worth pursuing to see if there’s merit to it,” Clark said.

And besides a feasibility study, there are questions of cost and jurisdiction on the land.
Clark says the project is too big in scope to be paid for through regular tourism channels and that outside financing would be necessary.

As for the land, most of it is crown owned on traditional First Nations territory, says Leach, adding consultations would be required.

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