Standing amidst the ancient cedars and lush fauna of the Ancient Forest, Nowell Senior is still slightly bewildered by the timber pathway stretching nearly half a kilometre beneath his feet.
"I'm still amazed that we did it, honestly," said the Caledonia Ramblers president, breathing in the scent of freshly cut timber, the golden hue of which contrasts pleasantly with the surrounding green vegetation.
After four years of work, the long-awaited Universal Boardwalk will have its grand opening Sunday afternoon.
"I come out and I shake my head and I just can't believe it," said Senior, noting at times it would take a week of work just to extend the new accessible pathway around a corner. "It seemed interminable. Would we ever finish? But then you just keep pecking away, pecking away and before you know it you've gone over the rough patches and then it starts to get easier."
Since 2010, nearly 200 volunteers have travelled a total of almost 53,000 kilometres to contribute more than 6,000 hours to constructing the 1,600 feet of boardwalk.
The trail goes east from the parking lot along the Driscoll Trail, ending up at a picturesque and serene stream. "This is sort of our finale," said Senior.
The community is invited to the Ancient Forest at noon for the grand opening and a free lunch served by the Caledonia Ramblers, with food provided by Save On Foods Spruceland and Wal-Mart.
The Ancient Forest, located 113 kilometres east of Prince George, already boasts the title of being the only temperate rainforest this far inland. It now also offers the ability to share the natural beauty of the space with as many people as possible.
Pat Harris, information services manager with Spinal Cord Injury BC, toured the new path a month ago with a colleague once principle construction was complete to make sure there weren't any outstanding accessibility issues. The site will also now feature handicapped parking, an entrance ramp and a wheelchair-accessible outhouse.
"The boardwalk is very special, it's an attraction," said Harris. "This is a unique opportunity for people with disabilities to access a really special and pristine part of our province."
Those opportunities aren't too common, added Harris, whose organization runs an information telephone line that receives constant queries about accessible outdoor tourism spots.
But there have been improvements made since the Measuring Up the North project began in 2007, he said.
The initiative was a joint venture with the North Central Local Government Association with the goal of helping more than 40 communities in the region to become more livable, sustainable and inclusive for all ages and levels of ability.
According to the 2011 report by project director Laurie Ringaert, "many changes were seen including policy, system and environmental changes."
These included visitable housing policies developed for addition to Prince George's official community plan and the creation of an accessible tourism and recreation strategy in the Cariboo Regional District.
Calling the Universal Boardwalk a "fantastic project," Harris said he was happy to see that not only is the new trail wheelchair accessible, but it also opens up the forest to everyone.
"It lends itself well to families with kids and it lends itself well for seniors and people that maybe have difficulty walking up mountain trails and what have you," he added.
It's not uncommon for people to stop at the site, look at the trailhead and be turned off by the logging road leading to the main 2.3-kilometre loop, according to Senior.
The boardwalk is also opening up options for people who had no intention of entering the forest.
He said a typical example was a recent busload of German tourists who had pulled off the highway to use the outhouse and have a smoke.
"But they ended up spending an hour and a half on the boardwalk, asking all kinds of questions about the vegetation and all kinds of things," Senior recalled.
Despite the four years of construction, which involved hauling 60 tonnes of lumber by hand deep into the forest in rain or shine, visitation at the Ancient Forest didn't slow down.
"On the contrary, it brought people into the forest because people were curious as to what we were doing," said Senior.
The specialness of the site, having an unusually located rainforest with trees that are thousands of years old, also drove an eagerness to volunteer.
"Just from a regional point of view, we live in this area and I suppose we have a sense of ownership - we've got something that's special and we want to be a part of it," he said.
In addition to the Caledonia Ramblers, residents from the McBride community, Dome Creek Forest Information committee - who introduced the Ramblers to the Ancient Forest site - along with people from Crescent Spur and Walker Road all lent their hands to the project.
The McBride Community Forest donated and delivered about $6,000 worth of wood and Leonard McCarty from McBride's Midget Mills cut all of the lumber for the boardwalk.
"It's just incredible what [McCarty] was able to produce by himself," Senior said.
McCarty, who has been in the business for 40 years, worked on cutting cedar for the boardwalk for three summers.
Sunday will be his first time visiting the forest to see the fruits of his labour, which he didn't realize was going to be as big a deal as it was.
"When it started out, I thought it was kind of ho-hum," McCarty said. "As it went along, now there's a certain amount of pride."
Some of that pride comes from observing a community pull together to get something done, without having to wait for government intervention.
"It demonstrates what perseverance and a great idea can do," McCarty said.
In addition to local involvement, there is also national blood, sweat and tears put into the project. In 2011, before the program's funding was cut by the federal government, Senior had help from the Katimavik volunteers stationed in Prince George, who he said contributed more than 1,000 hours of labour.
For his part, Senior has made more than 180 trips to the forest to work on the boardwalk. "I never get tired of coming out here," he said. The experience is being dragged out until the last possible moment, with the path receiving its proverbial last spike the day before the grand opening. "It will keep us on edge, the suspense heightened."
Still to come next year is interpretive signage along the new route, which UNBC has offered to help develop.
But in the meantime, the Ramblers and the rest of the volunteers can expect to gather more stories of satisfied visitors, like Senior's recollection of a 99-year-old woman who eagerly took on the boardwalk with her walker recently.
"And she walked the entire way, right to the platform and she was absolutely delighted," said Senior. "But she was no more delighted than we were to see her because, then you realize, this is what it's all about."