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Snowshoers make tracks in ancient forest

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Prince George is B.C.'s bull's-eye.

Not only does the timber capital anchor the centre of the province, it's also a point of convergence for winter adventure in the north. On offer is a smorgasbord of recreational options: outdoor speed skating on an Olympic-sized oval complete with its own Zamboni, cross-country skiing at the Otway Nordic Centre, downhill skiing and riding at Powder King Mountain Resort, and snowshoeing in old-growth forests. Small wonder that with so much on offer "PG" is slated to host the 2015 Canada Winter Games.

Last January, the Outdoor Life Adventure Co. guided Pique on a snowshoe trip through an ancient forest. In a region with forests devastated by mountain pine beetles, it was wonderful to discover pockets of ancient cedars that rival those on Cougar Mountain in Whistler or the slopes surrounding Chilliwack Lake in the Fraser Valley. Neither of the latter offers quick access from a major thoroughfare, as does the grove east of Prince George adjacent to the Yellowhead Highway. "We're just discovering the significance of this area," David Connell said while tramping beneath cedar boughs heavily laden with fresh powder snow.

Since 2007, the professor in the University of Northern British Columbia's school of environmental planning has studied the community and economic benefits of non-timber use of this former cut block in the inland rain forest. "There's a sense of 'being' here that you won't find elsewhere-the sense of appreciation for who we are as human beings," he observed. "Tourists tell us that one of the highlights of a trip here is the sense of discovering a place that's not very well known or publicized. This is one of a dozen such unique sites in the world."

Numbers tell the tale. Since its official opening in 2006, the Ancient Forest Trail has grown hugely in popularity, from an initial visitor count of hundreds to almost 10,000 in 2009. As Outdoor Life Adventure Co. owner-operator Laurella Gabert sees it, there's a good reason for that: "There aren't that many places for tourists to stop along Highway 16 [Yellowhead Highway] in the Robson Valley, so a lot of them pull in here to break up their journey."

Unlike many recent arrivals who offer similar reasons for having settled locally-blaming the SDG, or Some Damn Guy/Girl, syndrome-Gabert lays claim to deep roots. "In the early 1900s, my great-grandparents got off the train in the middle of nowhere, cleared bush, and started a mill." Today, Via Rail service between Jasper and Prince George still drops visitors at her family's doorstep in what are now the twin hamlets of Loos and Crescent Spur. "The railway runs right through the middle," she told Pique . "It [Crescent Spur] is a strange little community of perhaps 37 people. My husband, Trevor, and I moved here with our kids seven years ago after the forest industry shut down."

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