This April, I went to check out the falls on Stokes Creek again after an absence of a couple of years. To my surprise, I found that the trail had turned into trails with signs and new bridges added.
Later I was exploring Hole In The Wall. What I thought was a single trail has become a network of trails. The same sort of thing has been going on for years in the forest area along Highway 4. The Alberni Lookout and Loon Lake are two other examples. All of these areas are either accessed across private forest land or on forest land.
The presence and enormous popularity of these trails is causing headaches for Mosaic Forest Management, the company that has taken over management of both Island Timberlands and TimberWest. Every day I was exploring around there, I found several people hiking the trails or parked at the entrance to the West Coast Rangers Black Powder Club Road and across from Coombs Country Candy. They were from all over: Europe, Ontario, and Vancouver. And this was in April, not even the height of tourist season.
After thinking about this, I contacted Karen Brandt, of Mosaic Forest Management, and made an appointment to speak to her about the situation. You may not have heard of Mosaic Forest Management. It is a company formed from an affiliation agreement between Island Timberlands and TimberWest to jointly manage their forest lands. They see advantages in affiliating such as providing efficiencies and improvements in management seamlessly across the property boundaries of the two companies. All the employees of the parent companies now work for Mosaic. Ms. Brandt is the director of government relations and strategic engagement for the company.
She says that their prime concern is for the safety of the public on these trails and that she would prefer people to ask before accessing them. She went on to say that she is making it a priority to resolve some of the issues around them. An important part of this is to try to achieve access agreements with the various interest groups in the area. They already have a good number of agreements with groups on the east side of the Island, but none in the Alberni Valley.
Matt Banys is a local fellow who is very well connected in the mountain bike community. He says that he has been trying to come up with an agreement, perhaps similar to one in the Cumberland area for mountain bike use on Mosaic lands. He is also interested in more of a blanket agreement that would include other user groups like hikers and quads, but says he has met with limited success in this regard. The companies have been asking very steep fees for access, even for small events.
But all this doesn’t address the fact that these trails are just off Highway 4 where people from all over the world are traveling and looking for sights to see. One or more of these trails are featured on a large number of websites, including the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce’s site. I stopped counting at 25 sites that feature Hole In The Wall. Even Google has somehow found some of these trails and added them in dashed lines to Google Maps. The Alberni Lookout is just as popular.
All but one of the existing access agreements are with private clubs or groups. The exception is the Arrowsmith CPR Trail, and the trailhead for it is off Highway 4, like Hole In The Wall. In this case, the trail is open to the public and the agreement is with the Regional District of Nanaimo. Perhaps this agreement could serve as a model for a similar one with the Regional District of Alberni-Clayoquot.
Traditionally the board of the ACRD has shown little interest in saddling taxpayers with the extra costs of managing anything to do with parks or trails. But perhaps it is time to work with Mosaic in the interests of reducing the company’s liabilities, encouraging tourists, and cleaning up a messy situation.