Volunteer group seeks funding, professional help to finish clearing P.E.I. trails

Island Trails board member Bryson Guptill chops his way through a portion of the Winter River trail. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
Island Trails board member Bryson Guptill chops his way through a portion of the Winter River trail. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

More than three months after post-tropical storm Fiona, the cleanup of some P.E.I. trails is moving along — but the volunteer organization working to restore them says it needs funding for professional help to finish the job.

"Some of our trails, Dromore, Selkirk, Gairloch are really impacted by Fiona and it's just too much for us to deal with as volunteers" said Island Trails board president John Jamieson. "So we're hoping to get some funding from the different disaster programs so that we can actually hire contractors to go in and open those trails up for us."

The group is hoping to get up to $300,000 in provincial or federal funding to hire contractors.

Island Trails board member Bryson Guptill said it can take more than two hours to clear a half kilometre of trail. A handful of the volunteers were already certified in chainsaw operation, and several more completed training, but he says it's not enough.

"[We need] to actually hire some professionals as we get into the winter season," Guptill said. "Because it's getting more and more difficult for us to find enough volunteers to clear the trails that are in really bad shape."

Trails looking more recognizable

Guptill said the work done by the volunteers has gone well and many of the trails maintained by the group look more recognizable.

"Some of the areas that were quite flattened, we've now cleared it back far enough that you don't see a lot of the fallen trees," he said. "It's beginning to look like a normal trail again."

One of the main trails Guptill has worked on is the Winter River Trail in York. At this point it's open, but still being improved every day.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

"This trail is in good enough shape so we can just focus on making it better," Guptill said. "So this week we were trying to repair bridges because some of the bridges had railings knocked off."

There are still lots of trees to cut and brush to move, and trail users can see evidence of Fiona's damage — like piles of broken branches or downed trees — stacked to the side, buried under snow.

But even the hardest-hit parts of the trail are much better than they were just after the storm.

"We couldn't believe how bad the damage was, you're climbing over and crawling under looking for signs where the trail was," said Guptill. "It was kind of like a game of pick up sticks. You couldn't really find the trail, you couldn't sort out what was going to fall next. You would cut one tree and hope it wasn't leaning against another."

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

Further ahead than expected

The group has been able to re-open six of the 10 woodland trails it manages. Jamieson said the group is actually further ahead than where they thought they'd be at this point in time.

"Given the damage that we had and the fact that we're a volunteer organization, we were hoping to have one trail per county open," he said. "It makes me proud of the volunteers that have put in the time."

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

Island Trails hopes to have all 10 of its trails re-opened by spring, especially since more people have been using the trails since the pandemic began.

As of early January, the Bonshaw, Boughton River, Breadalbane, Forestview, North Cape and the Winter River trails are all mostly open. But the Selkirk and Dromore trails are still being worked on, and the Gairloch Road and Forest Hill trails haven't been touched.

"We'd like to see people be able to use some of the trails and snowshoe on them right away. So that's why we want to have a half a dozen trails accessible right now," said Guptill. "We know that in the spring when the new growth starts, that it'll begin to look really nice again."