Former Fruitvale mayor donates land for more trails

Libby Nelson has donated 95 acres of undeveloped land in hopes it will be developed for bike and hiking trails

Libby Nelson has always enjoyed the view from the top – of a mountain, that is.

Now the former Fruitvale mayor is paying it forward with a generous land donation to the Beaver Valley Recreation, Parks and Trails committee.

She’s no longer living in the area. But the doting grandmother returned to town last week and formally handed over 95 acres of undeveloped property with hopes that hiking and biking trails will be further advanced on the high peaks behind Montrose.

“It doesn’t have road access which is a bit of a handicap,” Nelson said by phone from her Pitt Meadows home.  “To be honest, I bought it years ago because I always loved the view and in my dream world, I hoped maybe someone, someday, would build a restaurant there,” she laughed. “But the world moves on and I was just happy that the trails people can use it and others can get up there to enjoy the view.”

Nelson suggests the name ‘Columbia Ridge’ be attached to the large chunk of land that begins at 12th Avenue in Montrose and runs upward into the regional district’s Area A.

The Beaver Valley committee has met to discuss the benevolent donation and although it’s too early to detail any plans, Nelson looks forward to hearing about future trail development.

“When I was leaving town, it seemed the right thing to do,” she added. “I hope people will enjoy it.”

Prior to Nelson’s gift of land, the BV committee had considered purchasing the property to expand its trail systems, explained Fruitvale Mayor Patricia Cecchini.

“For about six months we’ve been working on the legal documentation for this extremely generous donation.  Our trail system will be enhanced because the land gives us much more accessibility to create biking and hiking trails for recreation.”

The donated land has housed the popular Antenna Trail since 2005, and has led to discussion on creating more parks and hiking trails across the region.

“Libby Nelson has been very cooperative since we anticipated building the Antenna Trail in 2005,” explained Art Benzer, a member of the Antenna Trail group. “The land owners agreement is good for five years and she was very generous and signed another in 2010,” he explained. “She’s been very appreciative that we’ve developed the system to where it is now.”

The old trail with spectacular views of the Columbia River valley was developed for local hikers by a group of enthusiastic outdoorsmen with help from the Montrose Youth Action team and a B.C. Forest Service fire crew.

Kootenay Columbia Trails Society took the trail under its wing and added it to the growing list of newly-developed trails in the area.

A sign-in box, added in 2010, recorded up to 700 hikers that year, growing to nearly double the following year and up to 2,000 signatures by this March.

Benzer has been committed to the development of this trail over the years, which has included the addition of the flag pole viewpoint, a re-purposed Cominco Arena bench for taking in views of the Rossland Range from the flag and a sign to clarify and identify the range’s 11 peaks.

Last spring, the popular hike was turned into a loop trail with the addition of the new Old Orchard arm, which runs from the flagpole toward the end of 12 Avenue.

“Libby was a long term mayor who not only dedicated much of her life to community service, but has been generous in many other ways,” said Ali Grieve, Area A director. “This is a great piece of news for our region.”

Former Fruitvale Mayor Libby Nelson held her seat from 1996 through 2011. She was the first female Mayor of Fruitvale (which was incorporated in 1952) following 10-years of service on the school board. She sat as a Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Director for Fruitvale and was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, the Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, and received the Province of BC Community Achievement Award in 2013. Nelson retired from public office in November 2011.