A tale of two trails

With this week's fresh snowfall, many Whitehorse residents will soon find themselves outdoors, shovel in hand, to clear driveways and sidewalks.

With this week’s fresh snowfall, many Whitehorse residents will soon find themselves outdoors, shovel in hand, to clear driveways and sidewalks.

But for a couple of good Samaritans, the snow-clearing will extend well past the end of the driveway.

For the last couple of winters, a mystery snow-shoveller has been busy clearing a three-kilometre trail between Granger and the Black Street Stairs.

And this week, the News tracked him down to find out why he does it.

George Stewart lives in Granger with his wife. That’s where the News caught up to him, by following the neatly groomed, two-foot-wide trail that ends outside his home.

Every day, he said, he walks to and from downtown Whitehorse, following a route that takes him through the old upper tank farm, across the Alaska Highway, around the north end of the airport, and to the top of the Black Street Stairs.

It usually takes him about half an hour each way.

But the route he follows isn’t maintained. So Stewart grooms it himself, by hand.

“Everybody really likes it there,” he said, adding that cyclists often thank him when they pass him on the trail.

Stewart said he suffered a serious injury a few years ago. When he left the hospital, he quit smoking and drinking. Instead, he started to walk, and says the exercise has helped him heal.

“I feel better and better every day.”

Whitehorse resident Lewis Rifkind said he recently discovered Stewart’s trail when he was biking to Hillcrest from downtown. Now, he uses the trail to get to and from Mount McIntyre when he goes skiing.

“My hat’s off to this guy,” he said. “I think it’s very well-appreciated. It’s perhaps an inspiration to us all.”

Rifkind said Stewart has inspired him to pitch in himself, by clearing a short trail between Hawkins and Hanson Street downtown.

But there’s another side to this story. As it turns out, there’s a second good Samaritan who’s been clearing part of the same trail for years, and now Stewart’s handiwork is cramping his style.

Harris Cox is a volunteer with the Klondike Snowmobile Association, and has been clearing trails in and around Whitehorse for decades. He estimates that he might clear as much as 5,500 kilometres of multi-use trail every winter by pulling a groomer behind one of his snowmobiles. He said he sometimes spends 14-hour days out on the trails.

“I’ll leave in the dark in the morning and I’ll come home at midnight,” he said. “I enjoy it.”

One of the trails he grooms is a stretch between the Black Street Stairs and the Alaska Highway, north of the airport. Stewart’s trail runs parallel with his for part of that distance. The problem, he said, is that Stewart’s been leaving a windrow at the side of his trail that has frozen solid, which makes it harder for him to get through with his snowmobile.

“It’s made quite a ridge in there,” he said. “It made it difficult to do any work.”

But he did say that Stewart’s done a “fantastic job,” given that’s he’s only using a shovel.

Douglas Hnatiuk, manager of parks and community development for the city, said the solution might be for Stewart to leave the section of his trail near the airport to Cox, but to continue shovelling on the west side of the Alaska Highway.

“If he wants to get his exercise and do that part of the trail, that would be great.”

But he said the city typically doesn’t encourage individuals to clear public walkways. Instead, he suggested that aspiring good Samaritans should look into the city’s Snow Angels program, which recognizes people who shovel driveways for neighbours in need of help.

For his part, Stewart said he plans to keep shovelling his trail through the winter. After all, if he stops, he’ll just end up plowing through deep snow on his daily treks.

“Walk on snow?” he said. “No way!”

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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