Minutes after they tumble out of a school bus and onto the Old Pines hiking trail, Ms. Page’s Grade 1 class start to pepper their guides with questions.
“Are these lichen?”
“What’s this leaf?”
“Can we climb the trees?”
The answers—moss, Solomon’s seal, and a big laugh—come from Kelly Favron and Jonathan Van Barneveld, two volunteer directors with the Houston Hikers society.
It’s their first time guiding a hike, but Old Pines seems to have everything seven-year-olds might want to get their hands on—wrinkly brain mushrooms, pink fairy slippers, and a wetland that squishes like a sponge.
“With them here, it’s great,” says Silverthorne Elementary teacher Angela Page as she watches Favron and Van Barneveld lead her class to the trail highlight—a floating boardwalk that was recently rebuilt by Houston resident Rick Barden.
“Does anyone know what a carnivore is?” Van Barneveld asks the group.
“A meeeat-eater!” comes the answer.
“That’s right,” says Van Barneveld, and walks ahead to find a sundew—a local plant that traps and digests bugs in its gluey tentacles.
“Maybe the mosquito will land on it and we’ll see it get it,” says one boy, hopefully.
Back at the bus after the two-kilometre loop, Page said she first found out about Old Pines on the Houston Hikers new website, which now lists 13 local trails with maps, distances, and difficulty rankings.
Hikers director Kelly Favron says tech-savvy is one of the group’s greatest assets.
Houston Hikers started in 2010, when some friends at Houston Forest Products realized part of the China Nose Mountain trail was going to get logged.
“There’s a lot of trails around Houston, but they’re not on the provincial registry,” Favron explains.
“So we go out, and it’s kind of an adventure to go out and find a trail, GPS it, do the map up, and put it on.”
Favron said it’s a big help that the directors—who also include Andy Muma, Mary Robinson, and Jaret van der Giessen—are people work regularly with digital mapping systems and GPS gear.
Mapping and registering a trail with the province means that logging and mining companies can see it, Favron said. It also means B.C. Tourism funding for trail signs, as well as insurance for trail users and all the volunteers doing do trail work.
Before the Hikers mapped it, even trails like China Nose—a fairly well-known hike that’s close to town—used to be pretty easy to lose.
“Some people said there were two bridges, others said three,” Favron said, laughing. “There was ribbon everywhere, and we ended up in the middle of a plantation, nowhere near where we were supposed to be.”
With donations from the Morice Forest Salvage Society, Dungate Community Forest, and the hard work from forest-fire crews in Houston and Burns Lake, the Houston Hikers have so far been able to upgrade 12 older trails and cut a new one up to the old Story fire lookout.
“We had a goal of 20 trails within 20 kilometres of Houston,” Favron says.
“We were under the impression that we’d be laying out and building trails. But there were so many out there.”
And while they started with the goal of promoting Houston hiking trails for locals and tourists, Favron said the Hikers are now branching out.
The Hikers are in touch with a rock climbing group that has route maps and ratings for cliffs at Owen Hat and Nadina Mountain, have ideas for a quadding area, and are organizing the next step in a long-awaited plan to open mountain biking trails on Mount Harry Davis.
Favron said the Hikers are also going to host small web pages for other Houston outdoors clubs on their web page, along with a community forum where hikers can share tips on things like snowpack, wildlife, and trail difficulties.
“We’ve become kind of the Canadian Tire of hiking,” Favron said. “If you’re from another country, you think it’s just tires, but really it’s got everything.”
For trail maps and more info on the Houston Hikers, visit www.houstonhikers.ca.