In 2015, Nowell Senior, a Prince George resident and member of the Caledonia Ramblers Hiking Club, was honoured by having the Ancient Forests Trail wheelchair-accessible boardwalk named the Nowell Senior Universal Boardwalk. The group was also nominated that year for a Widening Our World award by the North Region Community Council. The Ancient Forests Trail is the only temperate rainforest in the world that is both farthest north and farthest away from the ocean; it is located about 113 kms east of Prince George.
An enthusiastic hiker and naturalist, Senior is a former special needs teacher who also has children with special needs. The story of how he helped in the creation of both the boardwalk and the park in which it is located is one of tenacity, vision, and collaboration. The consequences of the projects, both intended and unintended, are inspiring.
In 2006, Senior and other members of the Caledonia Ramblers began flagging a 15 km backcountry trail for hardy hikers, and a 2.5 km loop for a nature trail at the lower elevation that would eventually become the Ancient Forest Trail. Given the beauty of the area, which includes 1,000 year old cedars and rare mosses and lichens, the Ancient Forest trail provided an opportunity for people to enjoy the forest while the ecosystem remained protected.
Once developed, the trail was very popular, and Senior started to think about how to create a pathway that would allow people of all abilities to enjoy and explore a truly unique ecosystem. As the existing trail was not level enough, Senior and others looked for a route where a flat boardwalk could be built – and the project to develop the Nowell Senior Universal Boardwalk was born.
Funding and in kind contributions for the project were obtained through 42 sponsors from Prince George and across B.C. The boardwalk took over four years and 6,500 volunteer hours to complete; in that time, over 200 volunteers hauled by hand 74 tons of crushed rock, gravel, lumber and hardware into the forest. The 450-meter boardwalk was officially opened on August 4, 2013 and people from all over the northeast visit often.
“We wanted to make this unique forest open to everyone without exception, but the consequences of building the boardwalk have become larger than that,” said Senior. “The Universal Boardwalk not only invites people with challenges, but also people without challenges. It has become an attraction in itself and a place where community gathers.”
Senior, Dave King, a Caledonia Rambler, and Darwyn Coxson, a biology professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, began advocating in 2012 to have the area now known as the Ancient Forests Trail designated as a provincial park; they were successful in 2016. They are now working with the B.C. government to have the Ancient Forest Trail designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
“The Nowell Senior Universal Boardwalk provides a truly amazing opportunity for all people, no matter their method of mobility, to experience this unique site,” said Gord Robertson, Chair of the North Region Community Council. “Being able to go for a walk amongst the ancient cedar trees with my daughter Bree-Anna in her wheelchair and my mother with her walker is something I never would have thought possible, but it is, thanks to the efforts of the Caledonia Rambler’s Hiking Club. Thank you!”