Elk Valley teachers and students installed the timber arch at Elk Pass in celebration of the country’s sesquicentennial and the completion of the TransCanada Trail. Submitted photo

Elk Valley schools unite to install a timber arch on the TransCanada Trail

A massive wooden arch on the B.C.-Alberta border is uniting youth from the valley’s three public high schools in celebration of the largest trail network in the world.

Sparwood Secondary School teacher Stephen Larsen spearheaded the initiative to build the wooden arch where the TransCanada Trail crosses into B.C. at Elk Pass.

He hopes the project will foster more cooperation between Elk Valley schools.

“We live 30 kilometres from each other but it’s like we’re on islands,” he said. “We typically only see our fellow schools as adversaries in sports and there’s very little we do between all the schools, so to run a project like this and have the students connect and work on a single art piece that represents the whole valley was amazing.”

On June 28, students and staff from Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford schools installed the arch in a rural area north of Elkford. The project marks the trail’s completion and the nation’s sesquicentennial. Installing the arch five kilometres up a rough trail would take some doing.

Sparwood Secondary School Grade 10 student Isabelle Beaune said she enjoyed working with her Elk Valley peers on the project.

“I never thought I would get a bunch of new friends from Elkford,” she said.

The arch is made from three locally harvested pine logs donated by lumber company Stella-Jones. Each of them weighs approximately 1000 pounds.

Under the guidance of chainsaw artist Michael Penny, Elk Valley high school students spent the last several months designing and decorating the arch with images that symbolize the valley.

Its columns are adorned with images of wildlife, skiers and hikers and are united by an etching of the Elk River, which winds its way across the arch.

The completed arch was delivered by truck to Elk Lakes Provincial Park.

Sparwood Secondary shop students fabricated a single-axle cart to transport about 1800 pounds. worth of materials. Using thick ropes, about 30 students pulled the cart up to the site, gaining about 300 metres of elevation in the process.

The student-welded cart held together beautifully on the rough trail but Larsen’s pickup truck — which he’d brought along — lost a bumper and a tire in the effort.

Two huge holes were dug to hold the logs upright before students mixed and poured concrete to secure them.

They then built a scaffold that was strong enough to help hoist the arch’s cross piece about 14 feet in the air. It took the lifting power of over a dozen students; some standing on the scaffold, others on the ground using long poles, to get the log into position.

At the end of a long day, participating students carved their names into the arch.

Larsen could have used an excavator and other heavy equipment but decided having students problem solve ways of installing the arch would be a valuable learning experience.

“I was looking for ways that students could demonstrate the unbelievable skills that they possess, that don’t show up in the classroom,” he said. “And I wanted the students to connect both with their communities and the other communities in the Elk Valley.”

“I wanted the students to be part of a lasting legacy.”

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