Heartless theft of key signage from trail system

Snowmobile and ATV Club volunteer members Craig Houghton and Wayne Moll. Craig is holding one of the types of signs that have been stolen from the trails. Wayne has a trail system visitors’ information brochure in his hand.                                Photo Fiona MaureenSnowmobile and ATV Club volunteer members Craig Houghton and Wayne Moll. Craig is holding one of the types of signs that have been stolen from the trails. Wayne has a trail system visitors’ information brochure in his hand. Photo Fiona Maureen
The frame of one of the signs that’s missing. Someone carefully removed this board showing a large map of the trail system with an arrow indicating “You are here”.                                Photo submittedThe frame of one of the signs that’s missing. Someone carefully removed this board showing a large map of the trail system with an arrow indicating “You are here”. Photo submitted
Example of one of the signs that was stolen. This one is outside the Visitor Information Centre, showing tourists where the trail system is.                                Photo Fiona MaureenExample of one of the signs that was stolen. This one is outside the Visitor Information Centre, showing tourists where the trail system is. Photo Fiona Maureen

The Fort St. James Snowmobile Club was started in 1972 and became a society in 1998. They have been grooming the local trails in the area with volunteers for 40 years. The club volunteers are always improving the trail network by building bridges and adding new trails with signage and infrastructure to make the trails safe and fun for everyone.

But some unknown individuals are insisting on deliberately and repeatedly stealing these signs.

Signs are for safety

Signage is essential recreational infrastructure for safety and enjoyment of the trails. Missing signs were not just for convenience or for decoration, they had a purpose such as clearly marking trail names, direction arrows and maps of the trail system area with “You are here” points.

Expensive to replace

Trail signs are not interchangeable, but custom-designed specifically for the particular location in strategic spots, at a trailhead, turn or intersection.

“We have spent close to $30,000 in signs over the past few years,” says Craig Houghton, Chair of the Snowmobile & ATV Society.

Selfish, mischief trophies

Somebody has turned the theft and/or collection of trail signs into a sport. The signs have been removed, carefully unbolted and taken down. But it’s no joke.

“It’s very hurtful. It’s disrespectful”, says Craig. “We advertise these trails and people come to Fort St. James from all over to use them. Plus the majority of active users of these trails are 60 + years old”.

“It’s been ongoing for about a year,” says Craig. “What really hit us was most recently the loss of the big 3’ x 5’ sign on the Pitka trail.”

Signs not vandalised, taken off neatly

“They never ripped it off, they took the bolts out carefully,” says club volunteer Wayne Moll. “Somebody’s taken it as a souvenir,” he recons.

“One day we put up signs on the Saturday, it was hunting season. We went back to the same area the next day and the signs were ripped off,” continued Wayne who is in his mid seventies, yet he’s the club’s most active volunteer who has done more work than anyone for decades now according to Craig.

“There’s a trail, but maybe someone doesn’t want people to know there’s a trial there. It’s a mystery,” adds Wayne.

Theft not good for tourism

Visitors are drawn to the area to use the trails, they bring tourism dollars to Fort St. James but they don’t know the back country like locals might and without signs they can get lost or at the very least have an inconvenient experience trying to find their way.

“We had some people here from Whitecourt, Alberta this summer and they told us “Sometimes there are signs missing,” that they would go by and it doesn’t look right, so they had to go back.”

“People from Quesnel came and camped here because of the trail systems. You see people that are from out of town coming to the campground with a four wheeler on a trailer.”

If you grew up here you might not need the signs, but visitors most definitely do.

A trail camera is not a solution because “It would be hit and miss – over 300 km, so where would you put it?” asks Wayne.

Trails are for everyone

Signs support safety and usability for all trail activities. These trails are used by ATVs, hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, cross country skiers, snowmobiles and dog sledders. The club supports local dog mushers, and the Caledonia Classic dog races use the trails for training and to bring competitors from all over western Canada, Territories and Washington state.

The trails are for the public; open to everybody. Hundreds of people use the trails, and for all sorts of activities.

Endless volunteer work

There are so many people connected to the club who volunteer their time, equipment and give donations to help cover costs. Club members cherish the recreational asset which they have helped build and develop. Season after season volunteers work tirelessly on clearing fall down, building bridges, cleaning up garbage, snow grooming, maintenance and improvements of the trails for public use, such as adding outhouses and picnic tables, as well as preparing to host poker ride events to raise funds for operating costs. These poker rides are supported by people from Prince George, Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake and Fort St. James.

Theft is affecting everyone

“It’s so disheartening. Why would anyone repeatedly and deliberately unscrew hardware to remove signs?”

Wayne said this is not just affecting a handful of people. “It’s concerning and it’s hurting a lot of people.”

If you have any information about what happened to the missing signs or who was responsible please call FSJ RCMP at (250) 996-8269, or you can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477)