When I moved to Vancouver Island in 2009, finding like-minded “horse folks” to ride with was top priority. I wanted to be able to explore local rainforests and beaches on horseback. I found friends and a sense of community with the Comox Valley-based North Vancouver Island (NVI) chapter of the Back Country Horsemen Society of BC (BCHBC).
With 21 chapters and almost 900 members across the province, BCHBC offers a safe and friendly atmosphere for people of all ages and equine disciplines. This non-profit and volunteer-run organization focuses on horse and rider safety, environmental stewardship, trail building and maintenance, and fun … with and without our horses. There are more than 75 members of the NVI chapter, residing from Parksville to Port Alice and all points in-between. Additional Island chapters are located in Duncan (South VI), Nanaimo (Central VI), and Port Alberni (Alberni Valley).
Through the BCHBC network of people I’ve met, I have been privileged to ride well-maintained, multi-use recreational trails in more urban and rural settings on the Mid- to North-Island, as well as many areas that are truly off the grid. By far, my favourite place to explore has been the Salmon-Brewster Equine Campsites and the Trail Corridor Project, located in the Sayward Valley. These facilities were created by BCHBC-NVI and they were the most ambitious volunteer project ever undertaken by this chapter.
Located on Crown land, the Memekay Horse Camp Recreation Site, officially completed in 2012, is the largest of three equine camping areas. It boasts 12 campsites with adjacent horse corrals, manure containment areas, outhouses, picnic tables, fire rings, water cisterns (with non-potable water for horses only) and a large group shelter. It connects to the Brewster Lake Horse Camp via a 40-kilometre trail network called the Salmon Brewster Trail Corridor, which is marked with signage and flagging ribbons. This trail is recommended for intermediate- and advanced-level horses and riders.
Along the trail corridor is the more remote Pine Marten Recreation Site. Pine Marten has room for a couple of RVs with horse trailers. Amenities here include an outhouse, picnic table, fire ring, and a fenced area for horses. The northern half of the trail system winds through the grazing lease and pristine forest before emerging onto the old and long abandoned railway grades. It then continues through the rugged wilderness surrounding Brewster Lake, where the third campsite has four larger corrals, as well as space for a few RVs and horse trailers. All three campsites are off the grid, without cell service, electricity, or running water.
The idea for the creation of this ambitious project was conceived about 15 years ago. In 2009, a commitment was made by BCHBC-NVI to proceed with development, in collaboration with Recreation Sites and Trails BC. As well, financial and in-kind support came from many community stakeholders such as Horse Council BC, Strathcona Regional District, and Island Coastal Economic Trust to name a few.
These facilities are a testament to the spirit of community engagement. The Memekay Horse Camp was the first equine-friendly public recreation campsite on Vancouver Island Crown-owned land. The Salmon-Brewster Trail was the first registered trail designated for all to enjoy. If this story has piqued your interest in camping or hiking here, be aware! The drive to all three campsites involves travelling along many kilometres of winding gravel logging roads in a working forest. Expect to encounter logging trucks on the roads.
BCHBC’s NVI chapter has a long-term partnership agreement to help maintain the three equine campsites and the connecting trail network, and they rely on fundraising and donations to support their efforts. They welcome new members and, in doing so, support these and other trail projects. They also welcome donations.