Heiko’s Revitalized

Since Heiko’s Trail official opening just over 20 years ago, volunteers and paid trail crews with the Fernie Trails Alliance (FTA) have been doing regular yearly maintenance and improvements with permissions from the Province of BC via Rec Sites and Trails BC. 

Over the last few years there has been a large project to revitalize aging infrastructure, eroded trail tread, and overgrown sections of trail. With generous financial support from the Columbia Basin Trust’s Trail Enhancement Grant, the FTA trail crew replaced the numerous ladders, stairways, and catwalks of the Mt Bisaro cave section. Teams of volunteers brushed out overgrown and re-dug eroded trail tread in the Iron Creek traverse section. 

Outdoor recreation has been increasing in popularity recently. As a result, the trails in the Fernie area are getting more traffic, putting increased pressure on the trail system. In response, the Sustainability Project and Committee and the AmbassadorWild™ program developed and managed by Tourism Fernie as part of the RDEK Area A Sustainable Tourism Strategy, is helping to assess and mitigate impacts of the increased volume in partnership with the FTA.

Data about trash and human waste, damage to flora, wildlife observations or conflicts, and people’s overall experience on the trail has started to be collected through direct observation and by surveying users. Thankfully, the results thus far are positive, and people are reporting very few issues. 

A multi-year wildlife study using wildlife cameras in partnership with Dr. Clayton Lamb, a wildlife scientist, is also in progress thanks to the Sustainability Project. Information is being collected from several study plots about the quantity and quality of wildlife present compared to the number of human users on the trail. The hope is to understand if human traffic is having any impact on wildlife, such as displacement, and if so, to determine how many people it takes to cause a measurable impact. The findings will be used to inform future management decisions, such as potentially limiting the number of users. 

Concern was raised about the impacts of random dispersed camping in multiple locations along Heiko’s Trail. Day hiking continues to be recommended but minimal impact camping on Crown land is legal. People who choose to camp are now being asked to do so at a designated low impact camp location 1km north of Three Sisters Pass. This will concentrate the pressure in one small area where there is infrastructure. The site has several well-spaced tent pads on a short loop trail encircling a shared toilet, a bear hang, a food area, and water source. Signage is being installed to encourage people to keep food properly secured separate from tent sites, pack out all garbage, and to refrain from having campfires in the sensitive alpine environment. 

This summer there are plans to improve communication and education to encourage hikers to continue to use good practices. The original kiosk at the main trailhead has been rebuilt but with the original hand carved panel being preserved and refinished. New trailhead signage is being installed with messages about travelling safely, camping etiquette, taking care of the environment and wildlife safety. 
The AmbassadorWild™ team will be at trailheads and on the trail, in between other sites they help support such as Elk River access sites and Silver Springs, sharing ideas with users on how to minimize impacts. Improved way finding signage is also being installed to help people stay on route.

It has been great to see the efforts by users and volunteers to help preserve the aesthetic and environmental values of this fantastic trail. Thanks to all of you and keep it up! For more information 
about the AmbassadorWILD™ Program visit AmbassadorWILD.com, or the Sustainability Project, with funding support from the RDEK Area A, Columbia Basin Trust, TECK and the Province of BC, reach out to Tourism Fernie. I hope to see you out on this or one of our other spectacular local hiking trails this summer.

Dave Richards has spent his 35+ year career guiding or instructing outdoor adventure sports or managing outdoor businesses. In his spare time, he is an avid trail user and volunteer trail builder. He has been involved in the FTA and the Sustainability Project from their inception.

Photo Credit: Vince Mo