Like many small communities across British Columbia, ?Esdilagh First Nation (Alexandria), with traditional territory along the Fraser River between Quesnel and Williams Lake, has been looking for ways to keep their youth engaged.
Chief Victor Roy Stump says they are trying to keep them away from the city and towns and in the community.
“For the last few years we’ve seen most of our youth leaving our community because there’s been nothing to do here.”
They have tackled the problem head-on with a variety of solutions.
A multi-purpose rink was completed a few weeks ago and some ball fields are expected to be ready to play on before summer is over.
For extra inspiration, the band office looked to Williams Lake, known among thrill seekers as the shangri-la of mountain biking.
They have some of the best mountain bike networks in the world, with more than 400 kilometres of legal trails, which draw in people from far and wide.
Plenty of funding opportunities exist across the province, so the band teamed up with the Aboriginal Youth Mountain Biking Project to see what made sense for their community.
Thomas Schoen is a co-founder of the project and has been building trails in B.C. for 20 years.
“Our goal is to get kids on bikes to create healthy communities,” he says.
Schoen has been running a crew at the Xat’sull First Nation (Soda Creek) for the last four years, creating a large-scale trail development project where they now have 35-40 km of trails.
“It’s turning into a big economic development project as well, so the local First Nations communities in the area are definitely aware that other communities are getting started with trail development,” he says.
It has also seen many positive returns with youth engagement.
“We’ve got elders coming up to us telling us, ‘Wow, for the first time in years our kids aren’t just glued to the PC or to the TV all weekend. There’s actually something to do to get them out to get healthy.’”
The ?Esdilagh First Nation was able to secure some funding from Red Cross and have begun work on a couple of interesting projects. A 10-15 km multi-use trail will circle the community, and right next to their health centre they are building a small pump track.
Similar to the track next to the Quesnel Arts and Recreation Centre, the pump track is a small figure-eight loop where bikers learn to ride without peddling.
Schoen says they are extremely popular because of their accessibility to people of all ages and skill levels.
Riders use a steeper section of the course to gather speed and then pump their handles when travelling over the small bumps to keep their momentum.
New riders might be able to do a lap or two without peddling and experienced mountain bikers can do six or seven.
By all accounts it is an incredible workout.
Schoen says they often put pump tracks right in the middle of the community to spark interest in kids around cycling.
The track will have even more cache with visitors and youth alike, as it is being built by renowned Williams Lake mountain biker, James Doerfling.
While he is still actively competing in mountain biking, the 31-year-old has just started a contracting business making trails and tracks, so he can continue to be active in the scene that has given him so much.
Doerfling is amazed at how much the infrastructure around the sport has changed since he started as a young boy.
“It’s crazy!” he says.
“When I was growing up it was just people building stuff in the woods with two by fours and pallets and, I mean, it was all kind of under the radar.
“To see how far it’s come is crazy. All the grant money that’s going into it is helping it grow into such an amazing recreational sport that’s legalized now and it’s bringing so any people up north.”
Schoen agrees whole-heartedly.
“The various forms of government are realizing that it really gets people into communities. People travel to mountain bike and then they spend money in your community.”
He lauds the creation of legal trails, as opposed to the makeshift structures cut out by enthusiasts.
“It is a fantastic thing because now those trails are protected. If mining or forestry comes in they can’t just destroy them.
“They have to work with us, so all that hard work that goes into building trails is protected.”
Another important factor is the work trail builders are doing with First Nations.
“Before we start any trail project, we’re going to consult with First Nations and partner up with First Nations,” Schoen says.
“We’re always on First Nations land no matter where we are in B.C., so there’s a lot of partnerships that are created as a result of trail building.
“I’m hoping we get a solid trail building crew in this community that can then work on other maintenance programs across the Cariboo.”