Coastal marine trail network gives B.C. paddlers more options
For more than a century, B.C. has been blessed with visionaries who have worked individually and in groups to achieve protected status for endangered wilderness environments. An early example is Strathcona Provincial Park on central Vancouver Island, which—thanks to leadership from then-premier Richard McBride—became B.C.’s first such park in 1911. In more recent times, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society spearheaded preservation of the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area, a mammoth piece of real estate in northeastern B.C., part of which became Northern Rocky Mountains Provincial Park in June 1999.
Reached by phone at her Vancouver office, Sabine Jessen, national manager of the CPAWS oceans and great freshwater lakes program, outlined the society’s goal for 2012: to advance marine conservation through the establishment of 12 new marine protected areas. “We’re looking for official designations to promote the health of local marine ecosystems similar to the one announced in Gwaii Haanas National Park last January,” she told the Georgia Straight. “They’ve been a long time in the making.”
Jessen, who first made ocean integrity her mission in 1991, lauded the proposed 1,400-square-kilometre Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, which will stretch from near Victoria to Gabriola Passage. Jessen said the promotion of visitor enjoyment will share top billing with benefits to the ecosystem.
Clearly, some initiatives take longer than others to succeed, such as the attempts at creating a coastal marine trail network. In 1993, Chris Ladner, owner of Ecomarine Ocean Kayak Centre, and fellow paddler Peter McGee, author of the trusty guidebook Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest Coast, laid the foundation for a group called the B.C. Marine Trail Association. When contacted by phone at his Granville Island office, Ladner told the Straight that as hard as he and McGee lobbied for official designation of a water trail from the Washington state border to Alaska, their efforts didn’t come to fruition.
“The idea was to create places for paddlers to stop every eight to 10 nautical miles [15 to 18 kilometres],” Ladner recalled. “We used the Maine Island Trail in the U.S. as our model.” (Established in 1988, the MIT—off the coast of Maine—is recognized as North America’s first recreational water trail and caters to a mixed group of motorized and self-propelled oceangoers.) “We thought a marine trail would be a natural adjunct to the Trans Canada Trail, but they wanted nothing to do with us. At the same time, we tried to engage with power boaters in the B.C. Marine Parks Forever Society, but that became a much larger project than anyone had the time or money to pursue.”
The group received support from several quarters, including Mountain Equipment Co-op, and managed to amass enough funds for a trial site on Valdes Island. However, after several years of trying to launch a wider vision, the duo regretfully concluded that there was simply too much work involved for their fledgling endeavour.
Years later, on May 14, 2011, at the 14th annual Vancouver Island Paddlefest gathering in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island (sadly, in hiatus this year), a reinvigorated group, the B.C. Marine Trails Network Association, announced that it had relit the torch.
BCMTNA president Stephanie Meinke, speaking to the Straight by phone from Nanaimo, explained that the original brand had been tweaked just slightly by pluralizing trail and adding network to centre it in B.C. “We’re more than restarting what Peter and Chris envisaged; we’re doing it! At the time, they didn’t have government support. A lot has changed since then. To begin, we’ve entered into a partnership with Recreation Sites and Trails B.C., a branch of the Ministry of Forests, Land, and Natural Resource Operations.”
The association’s broader alliance has already begun to bear fruit. Between the national, provincial, and regional parks in the Gulf Islands, 21 campsites, nine launch sites, and eight day-use sites have already been designated. “A marine-trails designation means additions to existing sites in places like Wallace and Portland islands,” she said, “as well as the ability to make reservations with B.C. Parks. To give paddlers even more options, over the summer we’ll be adding a commercial component as well with on-water bed-and-breakfasts and resorts.”
When it comes to achieving lofty goals, numbers count. With a combined membership of 1,200 to 1,500 members, Meinke outlined how the BCMTNA comprises 11 groups, including a branch of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, as well as her home club, the Nanaimo Paddlers: “Each club sends reps to our gatherings. They do all the work.” Meinke styled the group as “descendants” of Ladner and McGee. “They donated $11,000, and we’re preserving their legacy by relocating a solar-powered outhouse to Musgrave Landing [on the southwest coast of Salt Spring Island], where we’re working towards official designation for a site.”
MEC has stepped in again with a grant to develop the association’s website. “We’re updating the maps all the time,” Meinke said. “By the end of the summer, I expect approval for our other largely developed section, from Port Hardy around the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Tofino, with a variety of 122 camp, launch, and day sites. At least 20 of them had no prior status. We’re making a difference.”
There’s more. Proposals for Desolation Sound, Discovery Island, Johnstone Strait, and the Broughton Archipelago are in the pipeline. Explained Meinke, “We hope to have them all posted by the end of the summer.”
Terrific news, especially as fall is prime paddling time. Dip, dip, and swing like never before.