On a sunny May day in Prince Rupert, Sean Carlson is walking along McClymont Park Trail, when he stops mid-stride and mid-sentence.
“This is my favourite part of trails, when you actually stop and you aren’t looking at your shoes or at the trail, and you look up, and you see the trees,” he said, eyes on the green canopy above. “Often I think we look down too much and we forget to turn our eyes up and enjoy our surroundings.”
As the president of the Kaien Island Trail Enhancement and Recreation Society (KITEARS), not only does Carlson spend much of his time on trails, but he spends a lot of time thinking about them as well.
Along the winding path, he stops to point out different sections that have been worked on over the years — there’s the pipe the city put in a few years back, new gravel after sewer work was done, the tree bark growing around a sign that was nailed there decades ago. These paths have a history, and Carlson is here to make sure they have a future.
A born-and-raised Rupertite, Carlson earned his bachelor of applied science and environmental engineering at the University of Alberta and the University of Northern B.C. Every summer, he’d return to Prince Rupert to visit family and, of course, run the Mount Hays QuickClimb. It was this event that, unbeknownst to him, would be Carlson’s first step toward leading KITEARS.
The QuickClimb was originally hosted by Quickload Logistics until it took a hiatus between 2010 and 2015. The Trail Society had helped with organizing for two years, and around the same time, the Rotary Club was hitting roadblocks with the long-closed Rushbrook Trail. So after graduation, when Carlson returned to Prince Rupert permanently to work with McElhanny Consulting Services, he reached out to Quickload and asked if McElhanny could become a co-sponsor. The Trail Society expanded its mandate to work on multiple trails, and Carlson became a bridge between the organizations. The QuickClimb was up and running again.
“It just helps create a more active community and a more active and healthy lifestyle for a lot of us. There are so many aspects of our lives now that make us sedentary, whether it’s our phones, our jobs, the technology that we use that we don’t need,” Carlson said. “We aren’t active on a daily basis. Getting outside and getting that physical fitness just by enjoying the outdoors, is probably the most important thing for me.”
As kids, Carlson and his brother could often be found outdoors, either on their bikes, with a fishing rod or out camping. Through school, they danced — jazz, tap, ballet, modern — and were heavy into sports and the high school musical. These days, Carlson can still be found outside, whether he’s checking on Rushbrook’s progress or at a site for work as an environmental engineer. (At Seafest, some can still see a few of his dance moves, if they know where to look.) Until recently, Carlson also served as a director for Northern Savings Credit Union.
“It didn’t come without its sleepless nights and knowing that the decision you’re making affected people in the community, people that you care about, people you knew on a personal level,” he said. “Your degrees of separation from the people are less and less as you get involved in different initiatives.”
He decided not to run again so that he can spend more time with his wife, now that she’s finishing school, and, of course, more time on trails.
“What I like about (trails) is I can put my professional knowledge to use in a way that helps the community, and then enjoy it after and see other people enjoy it and benefit from.”
In such a small town, Carlson said people will often tell him they can’t wait and have already been on Rushbrook Trail — despite the gate, which some overly eager trail-goers knocked down — and others who can’t wait but are trying to be patient.
Rushbrook Trail, in particular, is a much-anticipated trek. Many Rupertites feel a connection to the outdoors, and Carlson wants to help open it up to even more people by making the trail system more accessible to people with different mobility needs. Whether it’s people with wheelchairs, strollers or other requirements, many want to explore Rupert’s nature. And there are many people working toward the same goal. Carlson would like to see more.
“What builds a strong community is community involvement, so many of these organizations, like Special Events, Rupert Runners, Crime Stoppers, they all need new people to come and take on the roles that the older generation have so faithfully served on. To really build that vibrancy, it’s disconnecting from our technology and reconnecting in a different way.”
So where does Carlson go when he needs to disconnect and reconnect?
“Butze’s kind of a standard, but McClymont is one I do enjoy because it’s rolling, it’s quiet, it’s next to water, so you hear the water. There are pretty interesting trees that are growing. I’d have to say McClymont. And it’s close to home.”