Treasure-Mapping the Bulkley Valley

🕔Apr 07, 2010

Traditional field for Sandhill Cranes to land and feed during spring and fall migrations.

Somewhere in here is an old logging road that connects the Rabbit Road with the Lyon Creek Trail.

This trail connects the Telkwa Highroad with the Gramophone Creek FSR. It is part of a Wet’suwet’en heritage trail that was identified by Wah’tah’keght (Henry Alfred) in the 1990s. The licensees of woodlot 1505 maintain it.

You find a big map, with notes like this all over it. The handwriting indicates many different people were involved, and on many different days. Some of the writing’s faded; some is fresh—perhaps even from yesterday. There are little X’s or arrows next to the entries, lines drawn and places circled.

The single largest western hemlock tree measured in the Bulkley Valley, circumference 3.22 m, diameter 1.02 m, height 30.3 m.

It’s clearly a treasure map. But what treasure! Knowledge about interesting places of the valley: fun places, meaningful places, historical places, beautiful places. Yet it’s more than an inventory of treasures. There are ideas about things that could be done—and things that shouldn’t be done.

Osprey nest. Illegal to destroy or disturb under Wildlife Act.

This is a section of private land that breaks the continuity of public access around lake. If an opportunity occurs in future to add this as public, or a right of way, it would greatly enhance use of park for public.

You want to add some comments to the map. But it’s not in a dusty trunk in the attic, or at the library. It’s at a workshop in your neighbourhood, a community-mapping workshop put on by the Bulkley Valley Stewardship Coalition (BVSC). And the map itself exists only on-line.

The BVSC’s treasure-mapping project arose from a serendipitous confluence of events. People living near Round Lake began four years ago to map the “assets” in their area that they wanted to protect. The Regional District expressed an openness to receive local knowledge into the Official Community Plan. And the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, was looking to test experimental software called “MapChat” that would use the Internet to allow people to draw on a map and “chat” about their knowledge.

There are notes about how popular places are:

Twin Falls Recreation area. Very heavily used by residents and visitors alike. Both easy and difficult trails, viewing platform and picnic area.

And there are questions unanswered:

This is a trail I discovered recently, but don’t know its status. It’s a great place to walk the dog.

At times you can see a discussion:

Good biking trail, but very steep

—Perhaps needs signage to alert hikers to the presence of mountain bikers with little capacity for braking.

—Perhaps signage is needed to alert both user groups of correct conduct.

—Good idea. But who has responsibility for signage for this feature anyway?

Out of all these contributions came the vision of a comprehensive map of the Bulkley Valley, a map that would show what residents know—and what they think—about the Crown lands adjacent to where they live. It would be made, and continually updated, in the hope that bottom-up knowledge could be used in top-down planning.

Losing access
“The challenge we face in the Bulkley Valley,” says BVSC member Jay Gilden, “is that whenever a parcel of Crown land is sold, access to Crown lands through that parcel can be lost unless planners are aware of the local values.”

Anne Hetherington, Environmental Stewardship Specialist at the Ministry of Environment in Smithers, puts it another way: “These are important community and environmental assets. Identify them, and plan the sub-divisions around them.”

This is the main ridge-top trail that follows the edge of the rare ecosystem, starting at Mountain View Rd and finishing at Hyland Rd. Excellent views.

This southeast-facing saskatoon savannah is both a fine viewpoint (for the Telkwa Range) and prime wintering range for moose and deer.

Arriving at a BVSC workshop, you find a computer display projected onto a screen at the front of the room, and a pile of your neighbours seated around, talking about what they know.

“When we first started using MapChat,” Jay says, “we had this idea that each person would sit at his or her own computer and add things to the map. We learned quickly that that’s not what people want to do—they want to discuss!“

This is the main take-out spot for paddlers on the Telkwa. This run from the 8km bridge to here is the major Telkwa Run. It is well used.

Maybe you’re a new valley resident, and you meet someone who’s been in the valley a lot longer than you have, who laughs, “Did you know that waterfall just below the road is called Raymond’s Leap? It’s because Paul Raymond came driving around that corner so fast… and went right over it.”

“Eli Fletcher thought he found gold in here,” points out another old-timer, pointing to a snowmobile trail he’s contributed, “but it was actually iron pyrite. ”

“You know this was going to be called Snob Hill when Smithers was first founded?” says yet another resident with a long memory. “Owners of the lumber mill were going to live here, so all the lots were made bigger.”

Starting from our old barn meadow, heading uphill to the East boundary, climbing over wire fence into Private Hay fields… fabulous telemarking when there is BASE ON THE SNOW in the spring

Information offered about private land has always given the Stewardship Coalition a hard time.On the one hand, Hetherington points out that it makes sense to identify a wish-list of greenways, even across private land. “Once potential commuter routes for bike and walking trails are identified, if someone puts in for re-zoning or subdivision, it can be done. We have opportunities to make greenways in subdivisions.”

On the other hand, a private landowner might not like to find a route across his hay fields being recommended on a public map.

“So we collect the conversations people have in MapChat,” Jay clarifies, “but we only publish the parts that pertain to public land.”

At present, MapChat asks users for a password to get in.“Ultimately we’d like to make this so open to the public that anyone can log in and contribute information,” Jay adds. “Right now anyone can get a password if they contact us, and then can add information to the system.”

Western red cedar and old cabin site. This is the only known cedar growing in the wild near Smithers (closest known are in the Kitseguecla Lake Rd area). It may have been planted by whoever lived in the little cabin. The cedar is used by bears as a marker tree.

It is an unfolding and ongoing discussion that may ultimately preserve a trailway through a new subdivision, or keep public access to a river from being lost.

For more information about the community mapping project, contact the BV Stewardship Coalition at The maps can be viewed at the ValleyVision website, at