Chun T’oh Whudujut (Ancient Forest)
Chun T’oh Whudujut/Ancient Forest is a Provincial Park and Protected Area 120km east of Prince George. Within the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh, the park protects a portion of the only inland temperate rainforest in the world. Hiking the Ancient Forest trail will bring you past thousand-year-old western red cedars and a rich biodiversity of plants, mosses, lichens and fungi.
The 450m long universal access boardwalk provides the opportunity for people with all abilities to experience this majestic area. Another 2.3km of boardwalk provides access to the magnificent “Big” Tree, as well as Tree Beard, Radies Tree, and a beautiful cascading waterfall. Walking amongst these giant trees will leave you awestruck, not just at the beautiful forest itself, but how one of northern BC’s finest hidden treasures is actually located just off of Highway 16.
Being located within the Lheidli T’enneh traditional territory, the Ancient Forest and the land it grows on is closely tied to the First Nation’s cultural practices and traditions. Lheidli people would visit the stands from summer fishing camps along the upper Fraser River as well as gather medicinal plants, some of which were thought to be extinct. These activities were interrupted by the impact of residential schools. The Ancient Forest has not always been valued the same way it is today however.
While conducting research of lichen biodiversity, a UNBC graduate student came across the impressive stand of western red cedar trees. Forestry was and continues to be a prevalent industry in the north; at that time, these same trees were flagged and designated to be logged. Recognizing the vital importance of the Ancient Forest to the local First Nations and the unique ecosystem of the area, trails were soon developed to bring visitors to the site not only so others might see the majestic cedars, but bring attention to the site so that it might be protected. With the help of partnerships including local hiking groups, UNBC, Lheidli T’enneh, and the Provincial Government, the Ancient Forest biodiversity assessment project has helped support conservation and tourism-based economic development in the Prince George area.
More than 20,000 visitors have used the Ancient Forest’s existing three-kilometers of walking trails. In 2016, 11,190 hectares of the Ancient Forest was designated as a Class ‘A’ Provincial Park and given an additional name – Chun T’oh Whudujut. In 2018, the province and Lheidli T’enneh signed a memorandum of understanding, signifying a desire to work together on the planning and management of the park.
The provincial and federal governments have recently contributed $8.7 million towards an extensive development project which will see the eventual installation of new hiking trails, a sweat lodge, pit house, and gazebo in the park. The funding will also help improve existing boardwalks, access roads, washrooms, parking and signage, and a new interpretive centre that will share Lheidli T’enneh culture with park visitors. The continued partnership between Lheidli T’enneh and BC Parks will help protect the Ancient Forest and ensure it and the natural values of this area are maintained for future generations.