A thanks to Ward Kemerer for the Greenbelt’s winter trail grooming

Ward Kemerer is a name synonymous with the Revelstoke Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society and the winter snow grooming efforts on “the flats.” Ward was asked to become the interim President in 2018 after he came up with the idea to generate revenue and membership by enabling year-round use of the trails.

Ward Kemerer, leader of a small group of volunteers behind the grooming efforts that allow people to use the trails year-round. Photo: Chris Miller

This story was contributed by Chris Miller.

Ward Kemerer is synonymous with the Revelstoke Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society and the winter snow grooming efforts on “the Flats.” Ward was asked to become the interim President in 2018 after he came up with the idea to generate revenue and membership by enabling year-round use of the trails. Ward works tirelessly — one could only guess the number of hours volunteered for the IGS.

Ward had different ideas for the Greenbelt and surrounding area. He saw the potential. He knew of this incredible area and decided to take it upon himself, with countless hours of meetings, emails, phone calls, patience and persistence to include access during the snow-covered winter months, which, for most people, was inaccessible due to the deep snowpack.

What was once an area only used during the snow-free months is now usable year-round, thanks to Ward. Another little-known fact is that Ward independently financed all the Winter trail grooming equipment. He possesses optimism that one day, all who enjoy this piece of Winter paradise might support funding agencies to recover costs.

Ward in the “Mini Truck”, A small Japanese pickup fitted with tracks for use in winter, that tows a Ginsu Nordic ski device. For many people, their first time enjoying the magnificence of “The Flats” in winter. Photo: Chris Miller

The Greenbelt trails and “the Flats” are just another reason to visit Revelstoke. The Greenbelt’s existing tenure is the six-hectare parcel of land on the north side of the Illecillewaet River from BC Hydro’s drainage canal to the 4th Street traffic bridge.

The Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society started in 1998 to preserve and conserve the wildlands along the river. This includes maintaining existing trails and adding informational and educational structures. The original, modest group has volunteered immensely, organizing work “B’s,” allocating membership and donating funding to appropriate projects. This gift, within Revelstoke’s City limits, is accessible from multiple points but most effortless from Kovach Park or the 4th Street bridge parking area.

Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society members and supporters gathered on Oct. 15 to commemorate the construction of a new sign at the entrance to the greenspace. Pictured from left: Pam Doyle and Dave Raven, Revelstoke Credit Union directors; Barb Kemerer, Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society secretary; Barry Urquhart, volunteer; Ward Kemerer, Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society president; Bill Beard, Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society director; Louisa Fleming, Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society director; Heather Abbott, Revelstoke Community Foundation; Lorraine Beruchi, Director, Revelstoke Community Foundation; Chris Miller Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society director. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

The west end of the Greenbelt trails gives access to the Mark Kingsbury Memorial pedestrian bridge leading to “the Flats.” The Flats are fertile plains of the former Columbia River Valley bottom, nestled between the mighty Selkirk and Monashee Mountain ranges. They are home to many species of birds and other grassland animals and are crisscrossed with old roads that used to lead South to farmland, homesteads and, ultimately, the town of Arrowhead.

After the first dam on the Columbia River North of the 49th parallel — the Hugh Keenleyside Dam, near Castlegar — the flood back zone changed the Flats forever. This industrial bathtub, or BC Hydro’s drawdown area, became the reservoir for the dam and is underwater for a few months during the Summer. During the rest of the year, this area is frequented by birdwatchers, nature lovers, dog walkers, runners and cyclists, and whoever has discovered this remarkable area. One can only describe their feelings when you’re out in the middle of the valley, dwarfed by the magnificent mountain peaks surrounding you.

Ward’s energy and interests would culminate his foresight into fruition. He could have purchased a snowmobile to smooth the snow-covered trails, but after discussing the twisty routes with local experts, they suggested a traditional sled would be a poor machine for the challenge. Then, inspired by an inventor from Québec, he came across Auguste Lockwood from Seeley Lake, Montana. With similar aspirations but much more experience, Ward commissioned him to fabricate a powerful, electrically driven “Tracksled” for the winter of 2019. This machine would tow its driver in a toboggan and a 3-foot-wide snow smoothening implement.

The “Track Sled”, Ward’s first winter trail groomer, built by Auguste Lockwood, from Montana. Electric powered and smoothes a 3 foot wide path throughout the Greenbelt trails and surrounding area. Photo: Chris Miller

People had no idea, but this would be life-changing. First, doctors would prescribe a daily dose of exercise in nature for your mental and physical health and well-being. Then, along came the pandemic. Individuals and families were forced to isolate, but social media and the world wide web delivered images of rural BC escaping “lockdown.”

We were very fortunate that access to nature and fresh air is right outside our doors, with very few others to worry about sharing these spaces with.

Photo: Chris Miller

The Greenbelt trails would become widely used during the initial stages of the pandemic. However, as the months of isolation added up, many people started to feel a lack of social stimulation. Once the proximity rules were reduced and social distancing outdoors was decreased to 2 m, people were allowed to walk beside one another and could not wait to socialize again.

Photo: Chris Miller

Another winter was approaching, and Ward wanted to groom the wider snow-covered trails and the old roads on “the Flats.” So, for the winter of 2021, he purchased a Japanese, right-hand drive, 4WD Suzuki pickup and equipped it with tracks for use on the snow. Dubbed “The Mini Truck,” it had a snow plow blade mounted on the front and would pull a Ginzu groomer with a track setter attachment, similar to the one used by our big brother Nordic Club. This was another huge hit, and users commended Ward. He was doing a great job of maintaining the trails. Who doesn’t love fresh corduroy snow on a blue-sky day?

The weather worked in Ward’s favour also; lots of blue sky and lower amounts of snow. But, unfortunately, as we all know, you can’t depend on the weather. At the start of the second season with the “Mini Truck,” high winds blew through the valley bottom for consecutive days. This caused the snow drifts to build over the exposed tracks that had been maintained and manicured since this snowfall began. Ward spent many hours daily pushing snow and grading the tracks back into reasonable shape, but not ideal grooming outcomes. In addition, the ultra-convenient location and superb trail conditions brought a huge demand increase. This, and the resulting expectation that there would be perfectly groomed trails each day, Ward knew that the machine was not up for the task.

During the spring of 2022, Ward started his research to find a replacement. His research concluded that an ideal snowcat for the job was a Favero Snow Rabbit 3X. This machine is a smaller winter trail groomer, transportable behind a half-ton pickup. This allows the opportunity for use at other winter venues requiring snow shaping. With lots of extra power, a 12-way adjustable blade in the front and a standard hydraulic tiller in the back, with Nordic ski track setting attachments, this machine offers its assortment of users a premium experience. There is a very high demand for these machines, and only a few new models were available in North America. If we wanted one, our decision would need to be made promptly. This would not be a cheap endeavour, but with grant applications, discussions with local agencies for financial backing, and some encouraging meetings with city officials. Like everything Ward does, he went all in.

Ward’s newest acquisition, ”The Snow Rabbit”, a smaller, easily transportable, high quality snow grooming machine, that offers all users of “The Flats”, an unforgettable experience. Photo: Chris Miller

I am an active 48-year-old male adventure seeker. Like many who visit or call Revelstoke home, access to the surrounding mountains to fulfill their adrenal needs is essential. However, I have learned that the valley bottom assets replenish my cup.

I have done my share of playing in the mountains encompassing Revelstoke. However, nine years ago, I was dealt a major stroke in my hand of cards. Among many physical disabilities, I was robbed of my balance. I cannot walk, so I roll. I look forward to every ride on the Greenbelt trails and surrounding area, which I probably frequent almost daily. I ride a fat-tired trike, the Ice Full Fat. It has been amazing on the perfectly smooth, groomed trails of “the Flats.” I and everyone else enjoying Ward’s and other volunteers’ achievements are forever grateful. The ability to ride these trails in the winter showcases our breathtaking vistas.

Chris utilizes the groomed trails on the Greenbelt and Flats daily. Photo: Chris Miller

The IGS is very fortunate to have Ward guiding this organization. Ward, and a handful of hearty, qualified individuals, keep the tracks and trails smooth for the rest of us to enjoy. Unfortunately, as a small non-profit society, they have very little funding. Ultimately, there are plans to compensate Ward for his incredibly generous financial contribution. The organization hopes grants and other sources of financial aid will achieve this. Running a grooming operation requires a lot of dedication and capable management and maintenance of these complicated machines. The Revelstoke Nordic Ski Club has supported this complimentary community service. The society is also seeking board members to help keep the momentum going for this new activity.

Stay tuned for a fundraising drive!

This post was published by a member of the Revelstoke Mountaineer staff. Stories published under the staff byline include news briefs, stories that consist mostly of media releases, social media post shares, and stories by contributors with the author's name listed in the body of the story.