The Bean family are recreating what once was in Fort McMurray, Alberta

Resilience amidst chaos—rebuilding Fort McMurray’s snowmobile trail system

by Kyle Born

(L to R) Elburne, Freda and Barry Bean won the 2018 CCSO National Excellence Award for Snowmobile Family.
(L to R) Elburne, Freda and Barry Bean won the 2018 CCSO National Excellence Award for Snowmobile Family. Photo courtesy Barry Bean

In 2016, Fort McMurray was torched by a devastating wildfire. Residents lost homes, businesses, communities and their way of life. Some left to make a go of it somewhere else. Some stayed and rebuilt what was lost, including the snowmobile trail system.

“The trail I look after—the 50-mile (80-kilometre) loop Anzac Trail—was 80 per cent burnt,” said Elburne Bean, trail co-ordinator for the McMurray Sno-Drifters. “The burnt trees keep falling down and we keep taking the trees off the trail to make sure it’s safe.

“Recently, we had a heavy snowfall. It stuck to the trees and brought a lot of them down on the Connector Trail through Stony Mountain Trail. We had one heck of a job trying to get people out to get the trees off. We were out for a week trying to get that straightened away. My son, Barry, and I were the only ones who worked on it.

“Since the fire, we’ve been having a hard time trying to get volunteers. My son and I put in over 400 hours getting the trail cleared and clean and cutting up the wood for the firepits. To get people out to work . . . .” Bean trailed off at a loss for words. Considering that Bean is 86 years old, someone else is going to have to step up if Fort McMurray trails are going to remain open for the 400 snowmobilers who use them.

All in the family

Fortunately, the tireless efforts of the Bean family haven’t gone unnoticed. The Beans were awarded the 2018 Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations (CCSO) National Excellence Award for Snowmobile Family.

“My oldest son and I do an awful lot of snowmobiling together,” Bean said. “My wife, Freda, and I take our dog with us when the weather permits.”

Elburne and Barry Bean put in over 400 hours getting Fort McMurray trails cleared and clean and cutting up wood for the club’s firepits.
Elburne and Barry Bean put in over 400 hours getting Fort McMurray trails cleared and clean and cutting up wood for the club’s firepits. Photo courtesy Barry Bean

The family helps organize a Safe Ride Weekend as well as a Jamboree on March 16. Bean looks after much of the cooking, providing smokies, hot dogs and hot chocolate for the 150 attendees.

Gettin’ crafty

Thanks to Bean’s background as a millwright, he’s managed to provide comfy seating for leisurely riders. In his woodshop, Bean crafted over 50 seats that are now set up around firepits along local trails. The chairs are made of styrofoam and come with a step to get in and a roof overhead. 

I saw something similar on another trail and it seemed like a good idea so I took a quick sketch of it, brought it home and made one,” said Bean. “It looked good so I just kept making them after that. During the fire, we lost our seats. They all burnt. I remade them and the outhouses too.”

As with everything else after the fire (and before), Bean keeps plugging away and recreating what once was.

“There have been a lot of things that have happened over the years,” he said. “I don’t want to take all the credit for it but I was the one that initiated an awful lot of it.”

ON OUR RAD RADAR:

Rider: Elburne Bean
Where: Fort McMurray, Alberta
Occupation: Retired, formerly a millwright
Bragging rights: 2018 CCSO National Excellence Award winner for Snowmobile Family
Weapon of choice: Polaris Titan
Local ride recommendation: The Connector Trail near Stony Mountain. “It’s really hilly and winds around,” said Bean. “It’s a different type of terrain altogether.”

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