The Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation Area has a brand new run for skiers, thanks to the dedication of the Telkwa Rangers Unit Crew forest firefighters, and the lack of forest fires in northern B.C. this summer.
“When we’re not doing fire surpression, we’re looking for jobs we can do in and around the community,” said Dan Dykens, the Telkwa Unit Crew Supervisor.
Last summer, the crew, along with the Rainmakers from Hazelton, cut half a run; this year, the Rangers were able to do another full run. That means a landmark for the relatively new Hankin-Evelyn site.
“They’ve wrapped up what we wanted to do on the evelyn side of the project,” said Ben Heemskerk, from Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. “This year they were able to finish the whole second run top to bottom.”
Dykens said the crew is always looking for ways they can contribute when they’re not actively fighting fires. Cutting a ski run turned out to be ideal training for the crew, as well as an asset to the community.
“Our job is a bush job. Whether there’s a fire or not a fire, a lot of the work is the same,” he said. “Cutting a ski trail up the side of the mountain is basically what we do when we’re out fighting a fire.”
Part of the criteria for work the Rangers take on is that it’s not taking away work from any contractors. With government funding constantly coming and going, the work the fire crews do is essential to Recreation Sites and Trails as well as B.C. Parks, the village of Telkwa, the town of Smtihers, and other groups such as the Smithers Mountain Bike Association.
“They seem to have a lot of work, and limited resources when it comes to manpower,” said Dykens.
Heemskerk agreed that the area’s recreation sites have benefited greatly from the Rangers, Rainmakers and other fire crews.
“Our program just couldn’t do what we do without their help in a lot of cases, especially this year. The funding just wasn’t there. It was in the tens of thousands of dollars in crew wages that would have been paid anyway, because they have to have those crews on staff for dealing with fires if they happen, that they were able to contribute towards our projects.”
Although the firefighters are training while they’re working on projects like the ski run, mountain bike trails, or clearing danger trees and blowdown at recreation sites, Heemskerk said the work the crews do is a great benefit to all users of the sites.
“Those sorts of things are just a huge asset for us when we’re struggling with smaller budgets to keep these sites open and safe,” he said. “They do more than just fight fires. Maybe not everybody’s aware of that, but it’s a big deal for us.”