Report from the Field: The 2017 Vancouver Island Trail Building Season

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

By Torrance Coste, Vancouver Island Campaigner.


As September wraps up, so does another season of trail building for the Wilderness Committee’s Vancouver Island office.


Our trail program is a point of pride for our organization, and this year’s season – our biggest and most expansive yet – is no exception.

With seven different trips to three different Indigenous territories, we put dozens of volunteers to work on meaningful projects in some of the most spectacular rainforests on the planet. Clearing trail and building boardwalk, we worked alongside allies including the Ahousaht Nation Guardians, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, the Friends of Carmanah-Walbran, and the Friends of Clayoquot Sound.

Volunteers in Wah-nuh-jus—Hilthoois Tribal Park (Meares Island), unceded Tla-o-qui-aht territory. Photo: Torrance Coste

Volunteers in Kaxi:ks (Walbran Valley), unceded Pacheedaht territory. Photo: Emily Hoffpauir


Why we build trails


Trail building is a proven tactic that the Wilderness Committee has used for decades. Working with Indigenous groups and community partners, we’ve built trails and community gardens in various areas in BC and Manitoba.


From the Carmanah to the Elaho to the Stein Valley, we’ve helped build trails that have brought people and awareness to threatened areas that were then protected from destruction. We’ve immersed hundreds of volunteers in powerful wild ecosystems – trips that stay with them long after we return home. The trails and boardwalks they’ve built have made these areas easier and safer to access for thousands of more people.


Trail building is just one tactic we use at the Wilderness Committee, but it’s a big part of our summer and the connections we make through it – to places and to people – fuel our drive to fight to protect endangered forests from unsustainable industrial logging.


Left: Kaxi:ks (Walbran) River, unceded Pacheedaht territory. Photo: Scott Neves


The 2017 season: our biggest yet


Because of its popularity and new requests from Indigenous Nations and community groups, our trail building program has been growing in recent years. This spring and summer, we organized and led seven trips to three different rainforests.


A team of incredible Wilderness Committee staff helped promote and put together these trips, and dozens of volunteers signed up and gave a summer weekend to one of these worthwhile projects. Our Development and Engagement Coordinator Emily Hoffpauir, who has organized volunteers and been a critical part of our field program for years, stepped up further this summer by completing wilderness first aid and outdoor leadership trainings, and leading several trips herself.


Reports from the trips:


Unceded Tla-o-qui-aht Territory

Volunteers building boardwalk in Wah-nuh-jus—Hilthoois Tribal Park (Meares Island), unceded Tla-o-qui-aht territory. Photo: Torrance Coste


On two trips to Wah-nuh-jus—Hilthoois (Meares Island) Tribal Park in Clayoquot Sound our volunteers repaired and upgraded the legendary Big Tree Trail boardwalk, near Tofino. This trail is part of the world-class ecotourism infrastructure in Tla-o-qui-aht territory, and the Tribal Park it sits within was declared and protected by the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation more than 30 years ago. Wah-nuh-jus—Hilthoois was one of the first tribal parks declared in North America, and since then, the Tla-o-qui-aht have declared three other Tribal Parks in the rest of its territory.


In May and July, we spent four days in the Wah-nuh-jus--Hilthoois, working under the direction of Tribal Parks Guardians and alongside crews from Friends of Clayoquot Sound to build new boardwalks to provide safer and lower-impact access to the incredible old-growth rainforest.


In the evening we camped among giant cedar and Sitka spruce, watched bears roam down the beach, and fended off the island’s aggressive mosquito population!


The Wilderness Committee has a long-standing relationship with Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, and it’s an honour for our organization to support the Tla-o-qui-aht on a broad range of projects and issues.

Unceded Ahousaht Territory
Volunteers in unceded Ahousaht territory. Photo: Torrance Coste
Just northwest of Wah-nuh-jus—Hilthoois Tribal Park is the unceded territory of the Ahousaht Nation, where we also led two trips this summer. In January, Ahousaht unveiled its land use vision – and ambitious goal that sets aside 80 per cent of Ahousaht territory from logging and bans destructive activities like mining.

The Wilderness Committee and our allies applauded the Ahousaht for their bold leadership and made it clear we want to help support sustainable economic development in their territory. One of the things we were asked to do was help the Ahousaht Guardians maintain the Wildside Heritage Trail – a stunning backcountry hiking trail on Flores Island that was originally built by Wilderness Committee volunteers and Ahousaht citizens in the late 1990s.


Our trips to the Wildside featured up-close wildlife sightings, lunch-breaks on sunny white-sand beaches, and several kilometers of trail cleared of dense overgrown underbrush. We were joined by volunteers from the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, and many new friendships were formed.


The boat trip out to Flores Island, a twice-daily commute for some Ahousaht people, is a breathtaking event for the rest of us. Camping along the trail, we spoke to many hikers, each one humbled and amazed by the power and richness of this territory.


Our first summer back on the Wildside was a huge success, and we hope to be back next year!


Unceded Pacheedaht Territory
Volunteers hard at work in unceded Pacheedaht territory. Photo: Emily Hoffpauir
Further south on Vancouver Island, in the unceded territory of the Pacheedaht Nation, sits Kaxi:ks, or the Walbran Valley. The old growth rainforest is still being clearcut by Teal Jones logging company despite public outcry, blockades and extensive campaigning by the Wilderness Committee and others. Click here for more details on the Walbran Valley.
For the past two summers, we’ve partnered with the grassroots Friends of Carmanah/Walbran to build boardwalks and trails into Teal Jones’ planned cutblocks. Because of these efforts, thousands of citizens have seen and borne witness to the ten-thousand-year-old ecosystem Teal Jones wants to liquidate for profit.

This year, we partnered with the Friends on three trips, building boardwalks and expanding trails into several different parts of the Walbran (map).

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

These projects wouldn’t happen without the commitment and hard work of our volunteers. Every year, dozens of people give up their weekends and travel with us out to the rainforest, where they learn new skills and put their all into building trails and boardwalks. In all weather conditions, our volunteers have been positive and upbeat, making these trips fun highlights of our summer as well as meaningful parts of our important campaigns. Our organization can’t emphasize enough how grateful we are to them.

And our thanks extends beyond the amazing people who worked so hard out on the trails. From bags of nails to transportation costs to work gloves, trail building trips cost money. Mountain Equipment Co-op funded part of these projects though it’s access and activity grant, and the great folks at Tofino Water Taxi generously provided transportation for the Wah-nuh-jus—Hilthoois trips. The Wilderness Committee’s donors and supporters have long seen the importance of this work, and they continue to be the reason why these trips are possible.

Finally, to our partners from the Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht Nations and the Friends of Carmanah/Walbran: it’s an honour to work with you, and we look forward to clearing brush and laying down boardwalk with you for many years to come.

Volunteers in unceded Ahousaht territory. Photo: Emily Hoffpauir

At the Wilderness Committee, we’re committed to the protection of the remaining old-growth rainforest on Vancouver Island and the just transition to a truly sustainable forest industry that benefits everyone. We’ll continue to fight for this every day, in the forests and in meeting rooms and in the streets. And we’ll continue to build trails into incredible ecosystems to highlight what’s at stake, for as long as it takes.


This season has been a lot of work, but we can’t wait to get back out there, and we’re already scheming for next year’s’ trail building season!


See you in the woods.


Torrance Coste,

Vancouver Island Campaigner



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