By Nowell Senior –
The Ancient Forest is in the heart of the Interior Cedar Hemlock (ICH) zone, or Inland Temperate Rainforest, and is a unique and critical ecosystem that provides habitat for a core group of six mammals that signify a high level of wilderness. These mammals are lynx, grey wolf, wolverine, mountain caribou, cougar, and grizzly bear.
There are more tree species within the ICH than anywhere else in British Columbia, and arboreal lichen communities, especially the epiphytic cyanolichens assemblages on conifers, are among the richest in the world.
These species depend on forests with old-growth attributes and can disappear if the amount of habitat available to them falls below a critical threshold.
The Ancient Forest is part of one of the few remaining antique stands of cedar within the upper Fraser River Valley and the Robson corridor. These stands include cedar that are well over 1,000 years old.
For all of these reasons and because of a great deal of community involvement, the Ancient Forest became fully protected in 2016, and is now known as the Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Provincial Park and Protected Area, located 113 km east of Prince George.
The project that follows took place between 2010 and 2013 and was built by the Caledonia Ramblers Hiking Club Society. The Ramblers have built all the trails at the Ancient Forest and are continuing as stewards of the forest with the goal of maintaining accessibility along with protecting the integrity of the forest.
After completing the Ancient Forest trail, we soon realized that not everyone could enjoy it, and decided to build a fully accessible boardwalk with a picture in our minds of a nice, simple, level, plank pathway with people of all abilities using it to meander through our Ancient Forest.
It is one thing to have a vision such as this, but quite another to make it a reality. However, with faith and optimism we made plans for a Universal Boardwalk. Fortunately, that optimism was contagious and spread quickly over a wide area.
And so, four years later, after 6,500 hours of volunteer labour, help from 43 sponsors, 200 volunteers, and over $95,000 in contributions, we had a boardwalk.
Along with that initial picture of everyone enjoying the Ancient Forest is another rather lingering picture. It is that of those incredible volunteers who came out and used their healthy, strong bodies to build something that would be a source of joy for those less fortunate in health and strength.
Since joy and enthusiasm go hand in hand, both walked beside us as we built the boardwalk, and although at times it seemed the road to completion would never end, they stayed with us to the end.
And one more picture. As we neared the end and nailed down the final sections of boards, a 99-year-old lady with a walker shuffled between us; she smiled as she passed us, gradually disappearing from sight, determined to reach the end of the boardwalk. Sometime later, she was among us again with an even bigger smile—she had reached her goal through the forest, was delighted by it, and thanked us. That was what we were working for; that smile was our reward, and one that has been repeated many times since.
The globally unique forest that the Universal Boardwalk winds its way through is now known across Canada and the United States as well as around the world and is a precious natural resource of regional pride.
Speaking of pride, I am so proud of the dedication of the Caledonia Ramblers and all those who have given to the preservation and protection of the Ancient Forest. The Universal Boardwalk came about through a tremendous amount of community support and from beyond our community, and I thank all for this support. I am going to remember all those who worked together so wonderfully and with such enthusiasm to provide full access to the Ancient Forest. I am also going to treasure the smiles on the faces of those with special needs in our community who I see enjoying the boardwalk and who, in a way, were always with me during those four years building the boardwalk.
Nowell began building a trail the Ancient Forest in 2005 on a part-time basis as a volunteer with the Caledonia Ramblers Hiking Club. When he retired from his regular full-time job in 2011, his part-time job at the Ancient Forest became his full-time volunteer job. In these past 10 years Nowell has made over 550 trips to the Ancient Forest and driven 135,000 kilometres, and, together with the other volunteers, has made his contribution to a collective total of over 18,700 hours during these past 13 years. He is surrounded by the most resourceful, generous, and willing volunteers in the world, all of whom have rubbed off in one way or another, and who have also given a great deal of themselves to the Ancient Forest.