A horse

New horse camps and connecting trail in Sayward Valley

Grand opening of the Memekay River site of the Salmon Brewster Equine Campsites and Trail Corridor Project

Saturday, July 20 was a day to celebrate for members of the Back Country Horsemen Society of British Columbia (BCHBC) and all equine enthusiasts who enjoy trail riding on Vancouver Island.

On this day, more than 25 BCHBC members from across Vancouver Island, along with an additional 40-plus dignitaries and guests, gathered to celebrate the official grand opening of the Memekay River site of the Salmon Brewster Equine Campsites and Trail Corridor Project near Sayward. BCHBC worked with Recreation Sites and Trails BC in Campbell River to have the first Vancouver Island Crown Land equine-friendly public recreation campsites and trail designated.

“This wonderful facility is an example of what can happen when people have a vision, when they work in a spirit of community collaboration, and they put in hundreds of hours of volunteer effort in order to see that vision become reality,” said Phil Kent, Mayor of Duncan and a representative of the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET), which donated $40,000 to the $107,000 project.

Other major contributors included the Coast Sustainability Trust ($20,000) and Horse Council BC ($10,000). Significant ‘in kind’ donations were also made by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations ($27,000) and Western Forest Products, as well as other suppliers and contractors too numerous to list.

The approximately five-acre (two-hectare) Memekay Horse Camp features 11 campsites that are about 70 feet in length to accommodate horse trailers and recreational vehicles. Each campsite has two horse corrals, plus there is a group shelter with picnic tables. Other amenities include outhouses, manure containment areas and non-potable water for horses. The 1.5 acre (.5 ha.) Brewster Horse Camp is more open camping and has two larger corrals.

The Salmon Brewster Trail Corridor — a 40-kilometre trail through working forest and along historic railroad logging road grades — will connect the two campsites. While the campsites are completed and parts of the trail corridor are open, there is still work to be done to upgrade and clear the overgrown trail corridor.

In this region, trail maintenance will be ongoing and managed by BCHBC volunteers.

The project was the dream of retired rancher Rick Phye of Black Creek (formerly of Sayward) and his riding companion, Gerald Whalley, who is also from Sayward and is now the electoral area director of the Strathcona Regional District. Over the last five-years, Phye and Whalley have dedicated countless hours to scouting, riding and walking the Salmon Brewster Trail. They have slashed through brush and painstakingly established GPS coordinates in an effort to produce trail maps and make it accessible to advanced level riders. The next phase will see trail improvements in order for all levels of riders to be able to enjoy the trail.

John King, past chair of the North Vancouver Island (NVI) chapter of BCHBC explained that Phye was persistent in his efforts to get Back Country Horsemen on board with the project.

“Rick had the vision of turning this area into an equestrian trail and campsite facility to take advantage of the wonderful scenery and opportunities for equestrian use that this area offers. At first, due to the shear magnitude of the project, we declined his offer…but in 2010 we said ‘Let’s do it!’”

The project was three years in development and included extensive biological and archaeological assessments. In addition to securing various grants, community support and fundraising from BCHBC’s North Island Chapter, volunteers dedicated more than 1,100 hours of work, assisting with everything from trail clearing to corral construction, grant applications, and much more.

In his congratulatory speech, Duncan MacTavish, district recreation officer, Recreation Sites and Trails BC, Ministry of Forests Land and Natural Resource Operations, recognized the First Nations traditional territory and their support of the project. He also thanked Western Forest Products, BC Timber Sales, BC Forest Services, the Agricultural Land Commission, and the grazing leaseholders, Mark and Dan Johnson for their cooperation and support of the project.

“The mandate of Recreation Sites and Trails BC is to protect, manage and develop recreational opportunities on Crown Land, outside of parks and municipalities and these campsites and trails are in a ‘working’ forest,” explained MacTavish.

“As such, the 40-kilometre trail may change over time but because it designated an official recreation trail, it will always be there and users’ ‘right to ride’ will always be respected.”

On behalf of the 22,000 members of Horse Council BC, representative Susan Harrison, congratulated the BCHBC and other stakeholders for their collaboration, stewardship and volunteer spirit. She added with a laugh, “I can see an episode of the TV show ‘Mantracker’ being filmed here!”

Ybo Plante, president of BCHBC provincial, stressed that this project is proof that Back Country Horsemen of BC is ‘more than a riding club.’

“I am very proud of what has been accomplished here,” explained Plante. “I liken the volunteer and collaborative effort that has gone into this project to what it takes to have a well-trained horse. It is a step-by-step process that comes together only with a great deal of time, patience and perseverance.

“That’s what this project represents.”

One guest, who described herself as a certified ‘horse-aholic’ summed up the sentiments of all event attendees by saying: “This place is truly a gift. I see it as a symbol of the human spirit working together to create something truly special for fellow ‘horse-aholics’ today and for the future.”