Mystery solved: Identity of the Mystic Trail builder discovered - InfoNews

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Mystery solved: Identity of the Mystic Trail builder discovered

The homes of the three little pigs.
Image Credit: Lyn Briggs
May 04, 2019 - 8:00 PM

VERNON - Although it appeared to have been lost to time, the creator of the Mystic Trail nestled in the forest north of Mabel Lake has been discovered.

Former Gyro Club president Alan Jee shed light on the mystery, naming the late Fern Makarenko as the person responsible for crafting the organic sculptures that became the Mystic Trail.

"She just started with some small stuff... then it just got bigger and bigger," Jee told iNFOnews.ca. The former president of the neighbouring Gyro Club, Jee says Makarenko started making the sculptures for the trail sometime in the mid-80s.

READ MORE: Evicting the Three Bears: Okanagan 'enchanted forest' trail has an uncertain future

His former spouse disagrees. Judging by photographs of her grandchildren, Lyn Briggs believes the trail started in 1992. What they're both firm about however, is that the Mystic Trail was definitely Makarenko's creation.

Jee said as a member of the Gyro Club, Makarenko spent countless hours crafting the many weird and wonderful creations that dot the trail.

"She did most of it herself," Jee said. "She'd be up there all day."

Rhonda Briggs and her nephew Anders Poppleton at the skeleton graveyard.
Rhonda Briggs and her nephew Anders Poppleton at the skeleton graveyard.
Image Credit: Lyn Briggs

The 86 year-old clearly recalls Makarenko carving a six-foot bear from a dead tree he cut down. While the bear stood on the trail for many years, Jee believes it was moved to a family member's property.

"All I did is help Fern, if she wanted some help she would come and ask me," Jee said. "She handled a chainsaw pretty well herself."

Makarenko passed away in 2016, aged 90, and the trail is mentioned in her obituary. She also wrote several books, one which mentions the trail. From Steppes to Stumps: the Viteychuks and Makarenkos in Western Canada, published in 2007, mentions the Mystic Trail and the Three Bears cabin. According to Makarenko's book, the cabin dates back to the 1930s and was built by John Henry Dale as a trappers cabin.

Lyn Briggs' grandson Anders Poppleton on the trail in 2003.
Lyn Briggs' grandson Anders Poppleton on the trail in 2003.
Image Credit: Lyn Briggs

Jee believes the cabin may be older than that, but is sure it was around in the 1930s as sometime in the mid-70s he found a newspaper in the cabin dated June 15, 1933 - the exact day he was born.

Briggs describes Makarenko as a whimsical person with a creative spirit. She put a guest book in the Three Bears cabin and each summer it quickly filled with names.

Many of the trail's original sculptures appear to have been lost to nature. Briggs remembers an Ogopogo made from a fallen tree and the houses of the three little pigs - only one of which still stands.

Alan Jee has great memories of Fern Makarenko and the Mystic Trail. Although he says he spent more time fishing than being on the trail.
Alan Jee has great memories of Fern Makarenko and the Mystic Trail. Although he says he spent more time fishing than being on the trail.

As older kids came to the trail, Makarenko made the sculptures a little bit scarier, said Briggs, recalling the skeleton graveyard.

"It was in immaculate condition," Jee said. Even when hundreds came to explore the trail in the summer, Makarenko made sure there wasn't a speck of trash left on the trail.

One aspect of the trail neither Jee or Briggs can recall is the origins of the shoe tree. Jee remembers it started off with a few pairs and rapidly grew as people continued to nail their shoes to the branches and trunk of the tree. One thing he's sure about is that he was never involved.

"I'm not climbing up a tree to nail my shoes up there," Jee said.

Now the future of the trail is in jeopardy. A Forests Ministry Trespass Notice orders the removal of "unauthorized occupation of items" from the Crown land site by May 5. What will stay and what will be removed remains to be seen.

Lyn Briggs' daughter Hannah sits on the Ogopogo at the Mystic Trail 1992.
Lyn Briggs' daughter Hannah sits on the Ogopogo at the Mystic Trail 1992.
Image Credit: Lyn Briggs

Hannah Briggs with the bear carved by Fern Makarenko 2003.
Hannah Briggs with the bear carved by Fern Makarenko 2003.
Image Credit: Lyn Briggs

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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