Bridge to the bush: Snowmobiler restores beloved trail

Greg Munch took it upon himself to rebuild a road and bridge after it was deactivated by the provincial government.

Greg Munch stands atop a bridge he built with another member of the Nelson Sno-Goers Club over Sitkum Creek.

Greg Munch doesn’t like to be told where he can’t go.

And when he was told he couldn’t go into a forest that was his playground for over four decades, Munch was undeterred.

“I live in the bush. I love it. I really do. Just listen…,” said Munch, and here he waited a moment to take in the sound of Sitkum Creek rushing downhill. “This is beautiful, man.”

Two years ago a forest service road used by snowmobilers on Mount Cornfield was shut down by the provincial government. The rocky route, about eight kilometres up the mountain from Highway 3A, was initially built in 1934 for a mining operation. It also led into the alpine that was partially destroyed in the Sitkum Creek fires of 2007 and 2015.

After the first fire, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources moved in to log the area. When that was done, the road was deactivated and a rotting bridge over the creek was removed.

That didn’t sit well with Munch, a director with the Nelson Sno-Goers Club who has snowmobiled in the West Kootenay since the mid-1970s.

“One of the things the club wants to do is to keep recreation open. Keep it available for everybody. I used to take my grandkids up here lots. Now all of a sudden that got taken away from me. To me, why? That wasn’t right.”

So in January, Munch decided he’d build a new route to the area.

He applied for approval with the ministry in March to excavate a new road as well as build a bridge over the creek. The previous route, only visible now if someone is looking for it, wasn’t an option.

Once he got the green light, Munch secured grants from the Regional District of Central Kootenay and the Columbia Basin Trust. That’s when the real work began.

Although several organizations donated materials and support to the project, all the wood for the bridge came from Kalesnikoff Lumber, for example, the labour was done by only three people. Nick Turner, a member of the club, hauled his excavator up the rocky road to build the new path.

Munch and fellow club member Chad Fiander, meanwhile, built the bridge. Fiander had built a bridge before, and after an engineer advised them on what to do they finished the project earlier this month after a day and a half of work.

The bridge is more function than form — a means to cross a creek. Only leftover sawdust hints at how new it is. But it’s also a testament to what someone’s indignation can achieve.

“Our areas are being given away to snow-cat operators, heli-ski operators, and as soon as they get tenure in the area, it’s like we get fenced out,” said Munch. “The freelance snowmobilers, all of a sudden we can’t go there.”

Munch said the total cost of the project will likely end up around $12,000 once a sign informing the bridge’s weight limit is installed. But Munch thinks the importance of having the route restored is worth far more to the club and community.

“Here’s another area that we did use that the government’s taken away from us. I think it was really good that we stood up and said, ‘No, we want this area and we’re willing to fight for it.'”

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