Creston Community Forest: More than Forest Management

Creston residents may remember the opening of the Billy Goat Bluffs Trail in June of 2018. This 5.8 km out and back trail, which begins on Helen Street at the edge of town, is just one of the hiking/walking trails managed by the Creston Community Forest. The Billy Goat Bluff Trail has been a popular one for residents and visitors alike, largely due to easy access and beautiful scenery at the viewpoint.

The Creston Community Forest is a board-run, non-profit forest management company, operating within over 21,000 hectares of Crown land in the Creston Valley. While sustainable forest management is the bulk of the business, the Creston Community Forest Manager, Daniel Gratton, believes strongly in education and in expanding the existing hiking and mountain biking trail system in the Creston Valley, creating and improving upon recreation opportunities in the area.  The organization’s mission statement is simple and clear, the goal is “to be outstanding stewards, managing forest resources for environmental sustainability and economic stability while providing education and recreational opportunities in the Creston Valley”. Speaking to the staff and volunteers, it is obvious that this mission goes beyond the walls of their office space in the Creston Visitor’s Centre. Spend even a few minutes on one of the new or updated trails with one Daniel or board member, and head of the Trail Committee,  Jerry Bauer, and their passion for improving and maintaining the trails shows. They are constantly cleaning up the trails, making note of things that need repair, and strategizing on what to do nex

t. As avid hikers, the staff, volunteers and board members of the Creston Community Forest are not only working to create more recreational opportunities for the Creston Valley community, but also to create a place for themselves.

The Creston Community Forest manages seven hiking trails, totalling over 30km. Over the past year alone, 4.5 km of new trails have been developed, and work has been done to maintain and upgrade the current trail system. There are plans to expand the current systems even further, increasing foot access and amenities on Mt. Thompson. This summer, over $50,000 was invested into the Mt Thompson Trail Upgrade and Expansion project, half of which was funded by grants from the Columbia Basin Trust, the other half by the Creston Community Forest. There are plans to connect existing trails into a system that can be hiked in a loop, and there is a possibility of extending the already long hiking season into the winter by building snowshoeing trails for use when the trails are too snowy for hiking.

The Creston Community Forest as an organization is doing important work for the Creston Valley. They’ve gone great lengths in their efforts to increase recreation through the maintenance and creation of a hikeable, bikeable trail system, accessible to the majority of the population. They have recently received $670K of funding for important fuel mitigation work, and have worked hard to maintain positive relationships with property owners whose property adjoins Crown land on which the work is taking place. They work hard to promote education for residents of the Valley, primarily with school groups, but also by installing signs and maps along the trails, and encouraging those using the trails to practice polite recreation by packing trash out with them and keeping fires to designated areas.

A small team of paid employees and an impressive network of volunteers and partner community groups work at a very fast pace to get new trails ready for hikers, and existing trails in prime shape for the hiking season. The Billy Goat Trail was completed largely due to enormous volunteer efforts. More than 200 hours of volunteer work over the course of six work bees were put into the trail, and the result is impressive. A trail that begins on the edge of town, and winds its way up 2.9km with a 365m vertical gain, topped off with two brand new picnic tables, built by the Prince Charles Secondary School shop class, and stunning views of the Creston Valley, including Duck Lake, Kootenay Lake and Kootenay River. The Creston Community Forest group is invested in these trails not just as the people who maintain them, but as users as well. This summer, summer students Chelsea and Brendan, along with Trail Construction Supervisor, Greg constructed a foot bridge over part of Sullivan creek, allowing for easy hiking access without wet shoes. Conscious of all trail users, horse usage was taken into account during the planning phase, leaving enough space between the bridge and the trees for horses to get through easily. Kiosks have been installed and are just waiting for maps marking the trails to be added some time in the spring, plans are in place for picnic and campsites, and a pit toilet for the Mount Thompson lookout. Forest Service Roads have been maintained and graded over the last few years, meaning that almost anyone with a truck or an SUV can access trailheads and make use of the trails on foot, horseback or mountain bike.

For anyone who hasn’t made their way up the Billy Goat Bluffs Trail, or enjoyed the sound of Sullivan Creek while hiking under a canopy of trees, the Creston Community Forest team have developed easy to read maps and brochures detailing trailhead locations, trail length and vertical gain for the seven trails they manage. For those already using and enjoying the trails, hopefully you don’t mind sharing, because the Creston Community Forest Trail Committee has got exciting plans for 2020 and beyond.