It all started with a desire to walk the dog.
Now, the care and maintenance of trails at Park Hill has turned into a 27-year-old labour of love for Brian Browning, a lifelong resident of Canoe.
“It started with wanting a safe environment to walk because there was not very many places to go without roads or tracks. There were a few spots in that area, so I started clearing, cleaning up and building more trails,” says Browning of his mission which started in 1990, long before the Shuswap Trail Alliance or Greenways committee even existed.
“I don’t really think about it that much because the work has been done a few hours at a time, here and there for so many years, but when I think back, yes, there has been a lot of work done and a lot of new trails,” he says.
Browning notes he has has not been the sole driving force behind the Park Hill Trail System. He had help from a few other neighbours including Ron Adams, former Mall Arkey columnist, who had started on his own section. The two men met one day and decided to coordinate. Then, later on, volunteers with the trail alliance, the greenways initiatives, the city and even RapAttack fire crews have come in to help create the trail network.
“Brian is a prince among stewards,” says Phil McIntrye-Paul, executive director of the Shuswap Trail Alliance. ” We’re so fortunate to have so many good trail stewards like him throughout the region. He sets the bar very, very high.”
Browning has worked on every trail on the east side of the road, while the trail alliance has taken charge of the trail work on the east side. He goes out a few times a week, sometimes just doing a bit of clean up, other times taking on more radical projects like constructing a set of stairs.
Last week’s windstorm created a whole bunch of new projects for Browning, as many trees came down in the storm including a number which were uprooted and have damaged the trail structure.
“It’s Mother Nature. You can’t fight her. I’ll just get back to work. It gives a guy something to do,” he says with a laugh.
Browning works closely with the city and the trail alliance to report problems on the trails he may be unable to deal with or that are a safety hazard. The city, in turn, has supplied some of the materials for Browning’s volunteer labours.
Browning’s love of trails started in childhood.
“I have really fond memories of being out in the woods building tree forts and just rambling around. Now when I see the kids in Canoe using the trails, it really makes me smile. They might not think that way now, but those are memories they will carry with them.”
The trail work has also become a tradition for Browning, as he always sets aside time on Nov. 11 as his own personal acknowledgement of Remembrance Day. Now, others have joined him in the day’s effort.
“It’s my way of connecting with what those men were fighting for. The forest is a place of freedom and solitude and that’s kind of my thing. Some people might not agree, but I think it is a good way to go out and remember why those sacrifices were made.”
He is also using his expertise in other places in the community, including offering help at the Pileated Woods trail system.