Students at Cowichan Lake School put in the work to build happy and healthy trails

Chadd Cawson

This May, sixth and seventh graders of Lake Cowichan school will be hard at work to ensure the community, and all visiting outdoor enthusiasts have future happy trails to enjoy.

Classroom teacher Hailey Bergstrom reached out to Cowichan Lake Trail Blazers Society president Bob Day and met in late April in hopes to blaze the trail with a new program, which would not only give her students the opportunity to give back to their community, but also learn forest and trail-building skills along the way. The first session got underway on the morning of May 8 with other dates scheduled later in the month on May 15 and 29. The idea for getting the students involved stemmed from a hike that took place on April 28, when CLTBS board member Fred Nipp led 20 students through the trail system, giving them an overview of it, and what the work would entail.

“We plan to start with trail-widening work and drainage on our Chilling Chairs trail, which is near the school,” said Cowichan Lake Trail Blazers Society secretary Julia Martinusen. “We hope to spend the all-day session working on creating a bypass and working on drainage on our Terra Nova trail.”

Volunteers of the Cowichan Lake Trail Blazers Society have been working on this trail system since reaching a land-use agreement with Mosaic Forest Management in 2021, and have already built 65 trails to date.

“This spring, we’ve been focusing on putting in directional signposts so people can use our trails and not get lost,” said Day.

Work is well underway, he said, and there is a grand trail opening planned for Sunday, June 11, with a ribbon cutting, cookout and guided hiking and biking routes.

“That being said, there is always work to be done,” Day said. “Whether it’s maintaining existing trails or building entirely new paths for people to explore, the students will be helping with that work. Our goal is to teach a younger generation to enjoy and appreciate the forest and the recreation opportunities nature offers. We also hope to inspire their families and friends to join our group with a membership, help us with our trail-building activities, and come out with their hiking boots and mountain bikes to explore the trails. Our trails are for non-motorized use only so that really encourages physical activity for the whole community.”

An outdoor project of this magnitude not only teaches youth the value of a labour of love and teamwork, but also how collaboration can speed up a project from start to completion. On top of learning lessons in the great outdoors such as trail building, and how to use and care for the tools of the trade needed to nurture the nature, the science of it all comes into play.

Bergstrom received a grant through the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation which allowed her to order nature books for her students covering tree and flower species, mushrooms, animal tracks, and even identifying animals by the kind of scat they leave. With the CLTBS trail system encompassing the salmon bearing Beaver Creek, teaching opportunities should go swimmingly, allowing students to learn more about local marine biology, the life cycle of salmon, while walking away with a greater appreciation of forest ecology and how they can play their part in maintaining it for future generations.

“The students are really excited about contributing to their community, and are taking pride in their efforts,” said Bergstrom. “That is something that has been a big focus for them, they think it’s really special, and already have a sense of pride in the idea of contributing to something greater beyond the classroom, that their families and friends can utilize all year.”