The Ptarmigan Nordic Ski Club was started in 1977.
Birth of the Birchwood Trails
The idea to develop trails for XC skiing in the forested valley next to the school was the brain child of two teachers at Birchwood Junior High School, Ralph Tuominen, one of the Phys Ed teachers, & Udo Spitzer, the vice principal who was also an avid cross country skier.
During the 1978/1979 school year Herb Belter, then Principal of the school, encouraged Ralph and Udo to walk the "woods" and to lay out a loop. They were also to develop an action plan for trail construction.
In the spring of 1979 Ralph and Udo scouted the area and reported that we should start in the area north and east of the school since there were a number of survey lines that would make construction easier. It was pointed out "The Birchwood Forest" had lots of potential for an extensive trail system. They recommended putting in a relatively short loop and then adding loops as expertise developed.
Ralph moved to Sherwood Park that summer. Udo had a full plate.
As a result at the end of June, 1979, Herb Belter approached Richard Hofer and asked him to "ram rod" the job.
Richard envisioned a trail built mainly through the physical efforts of students, teachers and Birchwood parents. He asked for minimal funding and bought half a dozen axes, four grubbing mattocks, a chain saw, some rakes and spades and a pick or two.
Richard's wife worked for the City and strongly encouraged him to first get permission from the authorities.
Richard prepared a presentation outlining the plan for the "Moose" loop. This he presented to the Public School Board and to the City Council in October.
Richard was from the Lethbridge area and trees were to be cherished. As a result he promised to minimize tree damage in the building process. He stated any large trees would be avoided.
By early November permission for the building of the trail was given by both the City and the School Board. Both felt the trail would enhance the quality of life in the community but both made it clear that we should not expect any money from them.
Late in August Richard and Udo walked into the forest to mark out a trail. At first, they followed a survey line on top of bank towards the pipeline. To enter the valley they chose a point near the midpoint of this cut line. The trail down formed a lazy curve and later got the name "Killer Hill". They then kept swinging left and proceeded across a hillside that seeped. This section was later replaced with a trail lower in the valley because of the continual ice buildup.
By mid September 1979, Richard organized work gangs for after school and for weekends. They worked the cut line going east along the top of the hill. Work would start about 3:30 and go to 5:30 or so. The cut line helped a lot but progress was very slow. It soon became obvious the actually building of the trail in the woods would not happen using available manpower. Interest tapered off quickly. Soon it was hard to get volunteers.
Once permission to build the trail had been obtained, Herb and Richard, decided they could bring in a cat to do the hard work.
Herb was from bush country south west of Edmonton. He saw poplars as weeds that would regenerate quickly. He wanted to bring in a decent sized machine and push a trail about two blades wide. Too bad if a tree was in the way, the cat would relocate it.
Richard, wanting to stay within the spirit of the agreement with The Board and the City, pushed for a much smaller machine. A small machine, a puny DC4, was hired for $700. Both the equipment purchased and the cat hired were paid through school fund raising.
First the cut line was graded. Then the route into the valley was cut. The cat could not take out trees of any size. Therefore Richard had to follow a route that avoided heavy timber. At the bottom of Killer Hill, the cat broke through the lightly frozen ground and was stuck for over half a day. The route across the seeping hillside just below Birchwood was selected became it followed an old trail.
This first loop became the Moose Trail.
The second trail came in 1980. This time Richard did not bother to ask permission. We felt that the permission previously obtained covered us.
Herb talked to Larry Cooper who worked for a heavy equipment company, Alcor, owned by Al Burry. Through Larry¹s effort we got a good deal on a "big" Cat with swamp pads. Al sent an experienced "swamp" operator to doze the new loop. The trail went down the Birchwood Hill to the left, across the South Conn Creek and up Noma Hill. From there it went straight across to Thickwood Boulevard, crossed the creek on the side walk and returned to the school in the forest. Today this is known as the Beaver Trail.
The trail dozed was about two blades wide. Because of the skill of the operator the dozed trees almost seemed to disappear as they were pushed into the standing vegetation. The wide pads made swamp and creek crossing easy.
The 1980 trail is The Beaver Trail which was also paid through school fundraising.
During the fall of 1980 Richard obtained from Northlands Forest Products Ltd a curved tree that had been dressed on two sides. This trunk was brought to the Birchwood shop and Tom Walsh routed "Birchwood Forest Trail" into one dressed surface.
Richard convinced Alberta Power to donate two power poles. Just before Christmas an Alberta Power crew drilled the holes, and erected the poles. They also bolted the sign to the poles.
By this time, the spring of 1981, Herb and Richard thought they had gained the expertise to make future loop development easier. Obtain outside funding, walk the terrain to mark the route, get a deal on a big cat, make sure you have a good operator, and have a Birchwood supervisor who will make on the spot decision regarding route changes. Then run another loop.
In June Herb was inform of his transfer to Frank Spragins School for the next school year.
In the early fall Syncrude donated some money from their education fund. The province came through with over $2000.
Winter came early that fall. In November, with over a foot of snow on the ground, Herb and Richard marked the route for the next loop. Early in December, Richard supervised as Alcor¹s cat dozed what became the Bear Trail with its arm running out to Confederation Way.
At the end of 1981, the project was taken over by other groups who continued to improve it.
This history of the first trail construction of the Birchwood Trails was written by Herb Belter in 2006.
Educated: Bluffton, Rimbey and the University of Alberta B.Ed; Diplomas after degree
In Fort McMurray from 1974 to 2005 as teacher, vice principal & principal
Principal Birchwood Junior High School from 1977 to 1981