Local resident Frank Stini never forgets the day more than 20 years ago that he first worked on the Log Train Trail.
The trail used to be a logging railway but ceased operation in 1957. The brush, which had been kept trimmed and free of the railroad tracks had become long since overgrown by the time Stini got to it in 1991.
“My daughter and I walked across it but we got lost along the trail because it was so overgrown,” Stini, 83, said. “We came back with tools after and that’s how that first day went.”
Age hasn’t dulled Stini’s spirit. But time has slowly corroded the former millworker’s back and he now suffers from sharp lower back pain, forcing him to make some changes.
Stini is retiring from working on the trail to which he has dedicated the last 20 years of his life.
“I’m the kind of guy who likes working with people and not just watching people work but now I can’t anymore,” Stini said about retiring.
Getting to this point has been a great walk along life’s trail for the father of three.
Stini was born one of three children in Austria on Oct. 11, 1928.
Austria’s mountainous geography was plush with forests and lakes and wasn’t much different from that of Western Canada.
But the geographic boundaries of the country rendered that beauty compact. “Austria is beautiful but it’s so vast and so wild here and there is an ocean,” Stini said.
He learned the electrician trade after completing school in Austria, then, wanting to do more with his life he set out for Canada in 1953 at the age of 25.
He lived and worked in Toronto, Ont. for three years and then in 1957 made his way west to Vancouver. “There were a few Austrian guys who went to Kimberly to work in the mines but I went to Vancouver,” Stini said.
He got the urge to move again and inquired about where the best place to find work was. “They told me the best place to find work was on the Island in Port Alberni and sure enough I was hired right away,” Stini said.
The first ride down the hump into town on a rainy day stands out in Stini’s mind, but so too did something he saw the next day.
“It was sunny and clear the next day and I looked out and saw Mount Arrowsmith and Mount Klitsa for the first time,” Stini said. “I thought “Gosh, this is the place to be.”
He started working in the Somass Mill then moved to the Plywood Mill where he would spend the next 31 years.
Along the way he met his late wife Ellie, who had lived in the same boarding home as him. The two had three children, two of whom still live in the Alberni Valley. Ellie passed away eight years ago.
Stini retired from the mill in 1986 and, not one to spend his time idly, he involved himself with the ACRD and the horse club.
The club lacked trails to ride on and set to work finding ways to expand riding opportunities.
After the ACRD obtained a lease for the trail land from the provincial department of highways in 1991 Stini chose the 20-kilometre long area known as The Grade to begin trail reclamation.
“It was a railway so its gravel base made it compact and perfect place for horseback riding,” he said.
Moving a 50-foot long bridge by hand and not a helicopter stands out in Stini’s mind, as does the labour employed by young offenders through a program.
“I see some of them today and they still say “hello” to me,” Stini said.
The trail was important to Stini because it gave him enjoyment to see other people and families using and enjoying it.
“It makes you feel like you really accomplished something that will last,” he said.
Replacing Stini will be hard, said ACRD planner Mike Irg, who first met Stini in 1998.
“He’s one of the driving forces behind developing the trail into the amenity that people use now for walking, marathons, and cycling,” Irg said. “There’s always cars parked along it.”
Stini’s and others’ work has produced a trail network that connects the city with the Inlet trail. “Frank is one of those passionate, tireless volunteers and he did a lot,” Irg said.
Stini has worked closely with the Alberni Environmental Coalition for more than 20 years. What you see is what you get with Stini, Alberni Environmental Coalition spokesperson Maureen Sager said.
“He’s always been a pleasant, person to work with over the past 20 years,” Sager said. “And he’s remained a very modest man.” Where others saw an implacable, overgrown area that was formerly used as a railway Stini foresaw as a trail network used for recreation by people.
“Without Frank the trail likely wouldn’t exist today,” Sager said.