Stairmasters: Meet our trails carpenters

By District Staff on Friday, May 3, 2024

It’s a grey, drizzly spring afternoon, and DNV Parks carpenter Charlie Sikkema is working on a project in Lynn Canyon. He is surrounded by large stacks of lumber, towering coniferous trees, and the soothing soundtrack of a rushing river.   

“My love for nature brought me to work on the carpentry crew on the North Shore trails,” Sikkema says. “We work in these beautiful environments.” 

With over 3,000 hectares of parkland, greenways, and open space, as well as the accompanying facilities and infrastructure to manage, our crews stay busy year-round.    

Sikkema is part of the four-person carpentry crew that maintains, repairs and builds bridges, boardwalks, footbridges, and other related wooden structures in the District’s well-used forested areas to make parkgoers’ experiences safer and more comfortable.   

Franco Piluso, the trades foreman for Parks’ building and structures unit, explains that infrastructure replacement within the district's vast trail network is based on annual inspections.   

Today, the carpentry crew is replacing the famous and well-trodden wooden staircase that provides access to Lynn Canyon’s 30-foot pool—a favourite destination for locals and visitors.  

“The biggest challenges are working in the varying climate conditions and building in challenging terrain,” says Piluso, who was part of the team that built the original staircase in the early 1990s. 

The talented team is carefully replicating the existing staircase to help preserve the landmark structure’s connection to the park’s history for future generations.   

“We’re more or less following the path already there because it has been dug out. A lot of big rocks have been removed. But we do make little adjustments along the way,” says Sikkema. 

A trail carpenter works on rebuilding a staircase in a steep, forested area.

A creative process    

Sikkema, dressed in a waterproof jacket, hoodie, and baseball hat for unpredictable conditions, joined the District in 2021 and has a background primarily in residential carpentry.    

He says the biggest difference between residential carpentry and his current job with the trails crew is that when you build in the woods, you can always expect changes in the structure’s design - and changes in the weather.   

“There are a lot of different things that can come up, especially the weather here on the North Shore. It can be hot or wet; with wood, you have expansion, contraction, cracking, and general deterioration. So, it’s a pretty challenging environment.”   

Sikkema enjoys the freedom to build wooden structures that don’t always follow a set blueprint.   

“It’s a creative process. It’s exciting because you never know what you’ll come up to next. You might come across a huge boulder, and now you must reroute a bit,” he explains.  

The commute   

In some instances, the carpentry team will get jobs where they can carry their tools and materials directly from the work van and be right on the job site in a few steps.   

Often, however, they need to hike to work.    

Most of the wood for this project – treated Douglas fir and hemlock – was dropped in by helicopter, but the crew still must transport some of the wood, like the untreated cedar Sikkema is using for the handrails, by foot. That means a 10-to-15-minute hike, sometimes with lumber on their shoulders.  

But with this view, right in the middle of a rainforest, he’s not complaining.  “We always get to work in beautiful areas.  People travel the world to see Lynn Canyon, and we do most of our work here.”   

As the crew works on the 30-foot staircase rebuild, they move with well-orchestrated precision: one finishing handrails, one cutting the wood, and two building the stairs. The project will be completed in phases, and the crew will be busy here for several months.    

The staircase is closed now but will reopen in June to accommodate the busy summer season. It will be closed again in September through December to complete construction.  

A view from the top of a staircase under construction in the forested with a river in the background.

Building bridges  

Sikkema is incredibly proud of another project the team recently completed: replacing a bridge over floodplains in Lynn Canyon (see picture below).  

Multiple storms had extensively damaged the existing infrastructure, so the team had to reroute the trail, remove hazardous trees, restore the surrounding environment, and construct bridge improvements in tricky terrain.     

“That was probably our most technical project. It just turned out beautifully, and that is the project I am most proud of since joining the crew,” he says.   

During his downtime, Sikkema likes to bring friends and family for a hike in Lynn Canyon and show them what he and the crew have been working on.     

“That’s one of the reasons why I love building things with wood: You have this end product. Seeing everyone able to access these beautiful places after completing the work is so rewarding.” 

Get updates on the 30-foot staircase project 

A recently built wooden bridge in the forest.

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