Front Lines: Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society

Mar 3, 2016
by Mark Holloway  

This month, we visit the Cowichan Valley region on Vancouver Island in beautiful British Columbia. Just a short drive from the City of Duncan you’ll find several outstanding ride areas, including Maple Mountain, Mount Tzouhalem, Cobble Hill Mountain and Mount Prevost. If you've ridden any of the trails around Maple Mountain you’ve probably already met the dedicated men and women that have donated thousands of hours of their free time to help build, repair and maintain this outstanding network of trails. If not, let me introduce you to the hard working volunteers that make up the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society, the focus of this month's installment of, the Front Lines.

Duncan Area Mountain Biking Trails

Back in 2012, a group of local riders, including well-known trail builder Riley McIntosh, decided the time had come for trails in and around the Cowichan Valley to have an official voice. A voice that would work with the Municipality of North Cowichan to legalize and sanction existing trails and any newly constructed trails within the Maple Mountain area. The group took the first step and formed a not-for-profit trail association, and the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society (CTSS) was born. Wasting no time at all, CTSS submitted a proposal to the North Cowichan Forestry Committee laying out their vision of turning Maple Mountain into a world class mixed use recreational trail system.


Riley McIntosh and Andreas Hestler on Lower Maple Syrup. Photo by Kari Medig.


Early in 2013 the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society signed a License of Occupation with the Municipality of North Cowichan which allowed them for the first time to legally construct and maintain, mixed-use trails on Maple Mountain. The first order of business, a re-route of the original Maple Syrup trail, built by Trevor Prest many years before. Some lower sections of Maple Syrup crossed into private land and at the owner's request, the trail needed to be moved back within the forest boundaries. With the re-build of lower Maple Syrup in full swing, CTSS members took the opportunity to address any outstanding sustainability issues found on the upper portions of the trail, taking care to leave as much of Trevor's original design untouched. Members and supporters of CTSS worked tirelessly throughout the summer and into the fall to complete the project. In October of that year, the CTSS proudly hosted the official grand opening party of the newly minted Maple Syrup. The event would see 200+ riders and hikers take part and show their appreciation and support of the Society's hard work and dedication to the project.

Maple Syrup opening Day October 2013



With a dinner and dance fundraiser, MEC grant, local business sponsor and support and of course individual donations, CTSS was able to focus on the completion of their new climbing trail. A trail that would allow riders to avoid having to use a forest road to access upper Maple Syrup. Dedicated members spent weekend after weekend, wielding Pulaskis and MacLeods cutting in kilometer after kilometer of new trail. When all was said and done, the Society dedicated over 2000 volunteer hours and an entire season to the completion of the 9 km trail, now known simply as, the Climbing Trail. Combine this with the 9 km Maple Syrup descent and Maple Mountain now has a fully sanctioned, 18 km loop.

Maple Mountain Enduro

Photo Credit Chris Istace

Along with the completion of their 18 km loop, 2015 would see CTSS achieve many other great successes. They were able to complete and submit their Mt. Tzouhalem Assessment to the Municipality of North Cowichan; the assessment is currently being reviewed by the Municipality and CTSS hopes to soon receive the green light to begin the exciting task of officially maintaining much of the existing trail system within the Mt Tzouhalem area. The newly constructed trails allowed local bike shops and cycling groups to host multiple mountain bike races, attracting riders from all over the province, bringing revenue into the local economy and helping fund future CTSS projects. The CTSS also collaborated with Hiiye’yu Lelum (House of Friendship) Society on their Story Trails Program. The program gives teens the opportunity to shed the four walls of traditional school and learn life skills like teamwork, organization and goal setting, all while learning the fine art of trail building from Riley McIntosh.

Story Trails leader Riley McIntosh with a group of students. PHOTO Dave Silver

Story trails building

Photo Credit Chris Istace

The tremendous success of the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society in such a short amount of time speaks volumes to the leadership of the board and the dedication of its small group of members. As a group they decided early on that building a solid foundation by growing positive relationships with the Municipality of North Cowichan and local sponsors was more important than growing their membership numbers. They also credit their success to other organizations like NSMBA, SORCA and UROC that paved the way and proved that when associations work together with local municipalities on trail projects, truly amazing things can happen.

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2016 and beyond is shaping up to be a very exciting time for Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society and its members. With the Mt. Tzouhalem project on the horizon and further expansion of Maple Mountain trail system planned, the time has never been better to become a member of this great organization. To keep up to date on the latest Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society news and events be sure to check out their FaceBook page and keep on the lookout for the announcement of their exciting new website. If you’d like to support the spectacular trails in and around the Cowichan Valley, consider earning some Trail Karma by donating to the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society.

Beverly Seip amidst the moss of Cowichan. Photo by Paris Gore

MENTIONS: @Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society / @Cowichan Valley Cycling Club / @Cowichan Cycle / @Cycle Therapy / @trailforks / @Experience Cycle / @Dave Silver / @DSPhoto / @leftcoastmediahouse / @parisgore / @Chris Istace / @Stasher_SK

Are you interested in seeing your association or trails featured in a future Front Lines article?


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Member since Oct 15, 2011
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