Cumberland: From coal pit to gold mine

Martin Ready of Island Mountain Guides knows all the ins and outs of Cumberland and is a fun host.
Martin Ready of Island Mountain Guides knows all the ins and outs of Cumberland and is a fun host.

To say Cumberland is worth visiting is like saying that salt is one of two major condiments. Cumberland is a tiny town – just 3,000 people on the public register – but what they have here punches way above its weight.

If I was a town planner my basic requisites for a kick-ass town would be: rad bar that is dirty but not grimy, rad trails that actually have dirt on them, and housing that backs onto the trails and yet the cost of said housing is even slightly attainable for a moderately derelict bum like myself. (of course, if I was a town planner I might be able to afford a modest house on a hill overlooking the town.)

Cumberland has all three.

The Waverley is, well, it’s my favorite bar of all time, perhaps because of the ghosts of rad bands that have played there, the barmaids that keep it looking pretty, and the owner, Don McClellan, who seems to know his onions from his didgeridoos.

The centre of town and the Riding Fool Hostel, perhaps one of the best rider-centric accommodations anywhere in the land.
The centre of town and the Riding Fool Hostel, perhaps one of the best rider-centric accommodations anywhere in the land.

The trails are here too. The above list isn’t a Strava tick sheet but a sort of welcoming note to the potential here.

The housing, apparently, is sort of affordable. I didn’t know that one-million-times-nothing is affordable but I’m told by people that have a good grasp of the science-y skill of mathematics that Cumberland is within reach.

But mostly, there are trails. We shouldn’t be telling anyone about Cumberland because soon the street will be full of visitors, the trails might get busier, and the price of houses will start shooting skyward like mercury in a heatwave.

Cumberland was another industrial age boom town. It was a mining town that grew to serve the needs of the coal-hungry steam engines of the time. It ran hard from the 1880 until about the 1960s when most of the industry left town, taking with it the jobs. Cumberland went off the rails a little bit; an end of the road town that no one wanted to visit or felt safe doing so.

These days, if you are visiting British Columbia for a riding excursion, you have to be mad to not consider visiting Cumberland. It might be a one road town, but from that one road you can access the trails within minutes.

Martin Ready of Island Mountain Rides has a trail to his backdoor. Yes, you may know someone that has a trail to their backdoor too, but I doubt they live on the main street of town. Cumberland is tiny, but that’s the draw. Instead of skipping town to ride, residents can roll out of their own home and hit the trails within seconds. Not minutes, seconds.

Martin’s situation isn’t unique in town. Everyone, it seems, has a sneaky line into their backyard.

Where the trail ends: Martin's yard and the cooler of beers.
Where the trail ends: Martin’s yard and the cooler of beers.

The reason for this is partly due to the Cumberland Community Forest Committee, a brave group of souls who have been figuring out ways to buy the land immediately around town in order to preserve the natural habitat that homes the trails that people love.

The CCFC have purchased 150 acres around the town. The aim being to provide a barrier around the town so that logging doesn’t take over the main street activities. 150 acres doesn’t sound like much but it’s an ongoing project and read any trail map and you’ll realize the trails go on for much further than this. Spend a little time with someone like Martin and you realize that the map can’t get reprinted fast enough.

The community has figured out an amicable working relationship with the forestry companies that owns and operates on the land beyond the CCFC buffer. The riding community admit there are trails out there and they document exactly where they are. The forestry companies, rather than kicking back, are happy to let the trails exist, just so long as there is an understanding about what is acceptable and what is not, in the forest. Because of this there is an expansive, dense and premium quality network of trails. I’d give you a list of them, but I’d have to kill you.

Cumberland is the epitome of the idea that every town in BC has trails. It’s tiny but it has trails – a lot of them and all of them make you want to stay. One day I might just do that…


Where to stay – Riding Fool Hostel

Bike Shop – Dodge City Cycles

Where to eat – Tarbell’s Deli, Riders Pizza, Wandering Moose

Where to drink – Waverley Hotel

Community Organizations –
United Riders Of Cumberland is a registered Non Profit Society that promotes and supports the local Mountain Bike Community in the Comox Valley.
Comox Valley MTB has all sorts of information about trails in Cumberland and the surrounding area.
Cumberland Community Forest Committee.

Guide service – Island Mountain Rides

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