As backyards go, the Tetrahedron tends to be on the large side. Six thousand hectares of mountains, lakes, streams, wetlands and forest make this Class A provincial park northeast of Sechelt the perfect place for backcountry enthusiasts to explore.
It also makes the Tet, as it’s fondly known, an immensely challenging place to maintain for visitors. Charged with that formidable task is the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club, a hugely dedicated volunteer organization committed to maintaining the park’s four rustic cabins and the 25-kilometre trail network connecting those cabins.
“B.C. Parks owns the cabins and it’s their provincial park,” explains club president, Gerry Marcotte. “We are the stewards of the park and a have great working relationship with B.C. Parks, which goes a long way to keeping these cabins and trails up to date.”
The latest major project keeping the club’s volunteers busy has been the installation of a three-ton bridge spanning Steele Creek. Lowered by helicopter and installed by club members last month, the bridge cost about $20,000, $12,000 of which was partially funded by a grant from the Sunshine Coast Community Forest Legacy Fund.
It would have cost more but for the donations of businesses—structural engineering, welders and lumber milling. The mix of grants, donations, partnerships and resourceful volunteers continues from a blueprint established more than 35 years ago.
In the mid-1980s, amid an economic depression, a group of backcountry enthusiasts united to mobilize more than 200 volunteers, 45 businesses, schools, community groups and several levels of government: their goal, to build cabins linked by a trail network.
The Tetrahedron Ski Club, as it was then known, secured more than $150,000 in federal funding and another $20,000 from the province to build the cabins at Sechelt airport. The cabins would then be disassembled and flown by helicopter to be reassembled on site.
Forestry company, Canfor, and the Sunshine Coast Regional District donated timber, Sechelt Creek Contracting provided logging service, Airspan donated some airtime, Gibsons Building Supplies provided crane trucks and the Outdoor Recreation Council pitched in with chainsaws.
An army of volunteers mobilized to clear trails while 18 people worked on the cabins, gaining valuable carpentry skills and learning about surveying and wilderness first aid. By the time the cabins opened to the public in 1987, the club had raised more than $300,000 for the project. Perhaps more remarkably, a single great idea had united governments, businesses and local volunteers.
So, what motivated such efforts back then and what continues to drive the club’s volunteers now?
“There are a lot of people in the Tet for pure recreation,” says long-time club member, Melissa Rayfield. “I think the difference with volunteering is that it becomes purposeful recreation. I think any volunteer would feel the same way; it’s part of their social life, part of pleasure and the fulfilment of getting something done.”
Melissa’s husband, Danny Fleischhacker, agrees, adding that the solitude and the elements amid the Tet’s wide-open spaces are hard to resist, especially in winter.
“Getting out into the backyard, being out in nature there’s a sense of throttling back, tapping the brakes and going slow, but looking around,” says Danny, who admits that he also likes to go fast. “I really love skinning in a blizzard with the wind blowing at me. (Skinning is the practice of sticking synthetic skins to skis, climbing a trail, then skiing down. Danny and fellow club-member, Sam Preston, are particularly fond of exploring ski terrain deep in the park and immortalizing perfect runs with names like “Heaven is a Halfpipe”.)
Melissa and Danny are stewards of McNair cabin, visiting about once a month for maintenance and monitoring. (Visitors are asked to clean up after themselves but that doesn’t always mean that they do.) Gerry and his wife Ellen steward Bachelor cabin. In between are Edwards and Steele cabins, each with their own stewards and the latter cabin being the highest, situated at the base of 5,114-foot Mount Steele.
The cabins accommodate 12 to 16 people, are first come, first serve, and are well equipped with mattresses in the attic, firewood in the basement, a kitchen counter and a sink. The wood stove usually has the place toasty warm within an hour.
Panther, Steele and Tetrahedron peaks loom over the park’s 10 lakes and some of the oldest trees in the country. Amabilis fir, mountain and western hemlock, yellow cedar and white pine can all be found here.
For Melissa and Danny, winter in the Tet means fun; summer means work. “It can take a herculean effort by a small number of people to accomplish some of the projects,” says Melissa. “Trail-clearing is never ending.”
(Veteran club member, George Smith, recently spearheaded a new trail to provide day-trippers with a beautiful new ski-touring option past Mayne Lake.)
Nor are the volunteers getting any younger. “When you look at the group photos from the Steele Creek bridge project, you realize the average age of the volunteers is low-60s,” says Danny. “We need to bring down that average age, not that our volunteers aren’t uniquely capable— there are some extremely hard-working 70+ people. We all love the Tet and are very supportive of each other. There’s never a shortage of camaraderie.”
Funding is also a perennial concern for the club. Snow removal costs between $6,000 and $12,000 a year. Firewood is airlifted to the cabins at a cost of $18,000. Community members donate the wood, which is cut and split by club volunteers. (Visitors building winter bonfires outside of the cabins are a particular source of frustration for the club.) Then there’s cabin maintenance and major projects like the Steele Creek bridge. A bridge will soon be needed across Chapman Creek.
Cabin revenues of $10 to $15 a night help but the club’s major source of income is from the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival held at Elphinstone Secondary School in Gibsons. Tickets are on sale for the February 3 event, (see sidebar for details) which is also a good opportunity to learn more about the club and consider volunteering. Otherwise, the best way to join is online at tetoutdoor.ca.
“We welcome everyone with open arms,” says Gerry. “We moved here in 2016 and were warmly welcomed and encouraged by the club, and it still holds true today. The people we have come to know, the friends we’ve made—it’s absolutely awesome!”