We are both big dreamers, but we knew right from the beginning what we wanted to do. We wanted to save the trees.” – Eagle Walz, past President and Co-founder, Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS), Sunshine Coast Trail
It’s a good thing Eagle Walz never became a poet. Had the German-born, Saskatoon-raised elementary school teacher from Powell River gone on to become a professional poet, perhaps the Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT) never would have been built.
Eagle admits nature has always been a constant in his life.
Passion for the outdoors
“I probably inherited (it) from my mother, who was a nature lover,” says Eagle, who spent his early childhood in a small medieval city on the Danube, just at the edge of southern Germany’s Black Forest.
It wasn’t until after Eagle met a young couple from Powell River, while working in Mexico, that he went to visit the (then) town for the first time.
“It was love at first sight,” says Eagle, who became so enamored with Powell River that he ended up leaving Vancouver and moving there in 1972. He then took up a teaching position – something he vowed he’d never do but ended up doing for three decades.
Eagle’s passion for the trees, plants and water, and preserving their beauty, was only further ignited by the splendour of his new environment. Eagle recounts the moment in the late 1980s/early 90s, while making his daily commute back to Lund, that he noticed something strange along the side of the highway.
“I saw a clear cut in the trees that day. This changed everything!” says Eagle with a smile.
A journey begins
Shortly thereafter, Eagle and his “side-kick” Scott Glaspey – the “more practical one” to Eagle’s self-professed “dreamier mind” – embarked on their quest. For many people at the time, their vision seemed nothing more than a pipe dream. The skeptics were proven wrong.
“We are both big dreamers,” admits Eagle, “but we knew right from the beginning what we wanted to do. We wanted to save the trees. The only people who knew the forests at the time were the loggers and we wanted to share with everyone all these beautiful spots in the back country. The Sunshine Coast Trail was the vehicle to take people from the front country to identify the places of great value to those who’d never seen anything like that.”
For the first few years, the two men worked quietly away, completing the first trail, Tokenatch, in 1991/92. In 1993, they formed the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS) with the mandate of protecting old growth and wilderness areas. Others quickly joined in.
“We haven’t stopped for a second,” says Eagle, who attributes ‘staying power’ as the main reason they persevered for so many years.
This type of resilience and determination takes on new meaning when considering the years of gruelling and often fastidious volunteer work involved in breaking new trails through a mountain range. Their initial dream became a reality in 1999. Today the trail is considered to be Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail.
Achieving their dream
Eagle recalls people’s initial comments as the trail circuit approached completion: “They’re building trails over the mountains, just like they said they would… We have such huge support in the community, region, province and globe for this trail,” says Eagle. “The people that come here don’t just come once, they come again and again as the trail calls them here.”
In the nearly three decades during which the 180km-long trail has been built, 14 backcountry huts have been added, with another one slated for construction this fall. And if the SCT wasn’t enough, Eagle embarked on another project starting in 2017. This time with the local Tla’amin Nation with whom he had built strong relations since their “50s/50s soccer team” days of the 1970s. Eagle volunteered to design and build a 10-kilometre long network of interconnected loops, together with a crew of five local Indigenous men. The Nation provided the crew that created the Tla’amin Trails Network.
“I always said (this type of project) helps create work for someone in the future, if not sooner,” says Eagle.
And while Eagle admits he doesn’t necessarily write poetry today (though he “sometimes gets lyrical”), he does continue to sell his popular Sunshine Coast Trail Hiking Guidebook.
The lyricism of nature
When asked if he sees a link between poetry and nature in terms of how they bring people together, he answers quite simply: “Poetry is feelings and experiencing the forest and outdoors is also feelings.” He added that the trails and the bridges bring people together as they experience nature.
So perhaps we can also feel fortunate that Eagle had a penchant for poetry after all.
Eagle is the past president and co-founder of the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS) and released the fifth edition of “The Sunshine Coast Trail: Hut-to-Hut Hiking” guidebook in the summer 2021.
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