Big Steps Forward for a Small Island: Introducing Bowen Island Trail Society

Bowen Island Trail Society (BITS) is a volunteer organization dedicated to building and maintaining a well-integrated and interconnected community trail network for non-motorized trail users on Bowen Island, BC. Started in early 2017, BITS is the realization of a long-standing need for focused stewardship and collaboration around the trails and trail users on Bowen Island.

Bowen’s trails can be found on municipal, regional, Crown and private lands. It may not be a large island, but it’s a complicated jurisdiction for trail creation, maintenance, and management! The diversity of trail users—hikers, runners, mountain bikers, horse riders, motorized riders—makes the trail dialogue even more complex.

Since the municipal and regional trails have dedicated stewards already, BITS made the decision to focus predominantly on Crown lands, and in particular, Mt. Gardner. Anyone who’s visited Bowen and hiked up and around Mt. Gardner, will appreciate the work that needs to be done! However, no trail work (such as clearing new pathways, erecting signage, or installing blazes) is allowed on Crown land without a partnership agreement with the province of BC on behalf of the Crown.

Together with Bowen Trail Riders Association (BTRA) and Bowen Island Horse Owners’ and Riders’ Association (BIHORA), BITS signed a partnership agreement on May 3, 2018, with the province. Specifically, this will allow trail building and improvements on Mt. Gardner for multiple uses. The agreement lasts for two years, with the possibility to extend by five or 10 years thereafter.

Coalition members signing the Partnership Agreement (Photo: Chuck Chuck Venhuizen)

This is a tremendous success and milestone for BITS and our partners. Together we are three very different groups but share a unified view of creating an extraordinary experience for all trail users on Mt. Gardner. BITS is dedicated to non-motorized trail use on Bowen, BTRA is for off-road vehicles, and BIHORA is for equestrians. While many of our interests overlap, each group will have their own projects under the partnership agreement and draw on each other for volunteers, awareness, and funding.

BITS is working on a major Mt. Gardner trail navigation project, involving marking, signage and kiosks. We’re focusing on the Lower, Mid, and Upper sections of Skid Trail to start, and expanding the project to include other key trails up and around Mt. Gardner as budget and volunteers permit. A big thank you to Bob Schultz for leading this critical project on behalf of BITS. Over the summer, groups in the coalition and other helping hands from the trail community completed a new multi-use bridge project over a creek near the northeastern head of Handloggers Trail. Special thanks to Kevan Bernards and the crew from BTRA who pushed hard to make this happen with many volunteer hours poured into the project. It’s a tremendous addition and improvement to the Handloggers Trail!

The new bridge on Handloggers Trail (Photo: Kevin Kevan Bernards)

BITS also keeps busy with other activities not related to improving the Crown lands on Mt. Gardner. On September 1, the 5th annual Handloggers Half Marathon and Relay took over 100 participants on a challenging 21 km loop around Mt. Gardner. A ceremonial axe chop sent runners on their way and into the wonderful forests of Bowen Island to be greeted by amazing volunteers and supporters along the trail. BITS is one of the beneficiaries of the race, and our Vice President, Phil Osborne, is the Race Director. Many volunteers from BITS spent time before, during, and after the race to ensure its success.

On the third Saturday of each month, BITS hosts an event that involves Bowen’s trails in some shape or form. These events include hikes, trail runs,trail exploration, maintenance, mountain biking, and more. Every quarter we host an open meeting to engage members and friends of BITS. As a fledgling society, community participation and engagement is critical to our success and impact.

The 5th annual Handloggers Half starts with a ceremonial axe chop. (Photo: Nicole Winston)

Our other trail interests include partnering with private landowners to introduce or improve trails, such as the proposed trail network on the Grafton Lake Lands development site. We also work with the municipality to identify areas for trail improvement, and participate as stakeholders in general trail affairs on Bowen. We also recently partnered with the Island Pacific School on Bowen to introduce trail stewardship and nature conservation into their curriculum with in-class sessions led by BITS President, Alicia Hoppenrath.

BITS is very excited to be an FMCBC member and we look forward to sharing ideas, inspiration, learning and best practices with other members. Please reach out to info@bowenislandtrailsociety.ca or bowenislandtrailsociety.ca to say hello or to arrange a visit to Bowen—we’d love to show you around and share our beautiful island and its trails (and our progress) with you!

On the trail during a BITS member outing. (Photo: Bev Attfield)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *