The Alberni Lookout is a popular place for people wanting to see a spectacular view of the Alberni Valley. It’s also a place where the public trespasses regularly. SANDY MCRUER PHOTO

PAC RIM ACTIVE: How many trails are there in the Alberni Valley?

Marked trails, those that go through private property vary wildly, says columnist

SANDY MCRUER

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

For a number of years now, I’ve heard talk that there are more than 100 or even hundreds of trails in the Alberni Valley. I’m not sure where this idea came from.

I have been tracking it down. I thought it might have come from a project by the Alberni Valley Enhancement Society and the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District a number of years ago. They undertook to map all the trails they could find within the Alberni Valley watershed. They only succeeded in finding 54. There are likely more now since this was done 10 years ago. But it is unlikely 50 more have been built. So I’m still trying to track down this rumour.

The reality is that there are only 14 trails in the valley that are promoted by government. These trails can be found on the City of Port Alberni’s and the ACRD’s websites. The others, some of which are extremely popular, are left in a state of limbo.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that so much of the land in the Alberni Valley is privately owned by large timber companies. They have been very reluctant to give their legal agreement to have trails on their property. For them it is a liability issue, a fire issue, and a vandalism issue. Just to get permission for the Alberni Inlet Trail to be constructed and opened took seven years of negotiations.

One of the trails in limbo is Hole-in-the-Wall. Although the property around the “hole” is owned by the city of Port Alberni, the land around that property is owned by Island Timberlands. So anyone wishing to visit it is trespassing. The access too, is pretty unofficial. There are no signs posted at the trailhead. It’s a wide spot on a curve of Highway 4. Although the situation is dangerous, Hole-in-the Wall is promoted by the chamber of commerce visitors’ centre, many websites, residents and even a local politician or two. No resolution to this situation is in sight… that I know of.

Another example is the Alberni Lookout. Once the site of an old fire watchtower it offers a spectacular view of the entire valley from the Alberni Inlet to the headwaters of the valley’s rivers in Strathcona Provincial Park. It has been the site of bush parties for many years and evidence of them is in the shards of glass and charcoal scattered around the site. Two trails lead up to it and are used by both hikers and downhill mountain-bikers. The road access from the back is used by 4x4s and quads.

But again, no signs lead you to the trails. And because of that, I’ve heard several stories about visitors being given directions to it only to be confused by them and abandoning the hike. And again, it sits on Island Timberlands property, and no resolution seems to be in sight.

Another reason for the awkward state of unofficial trails in the Valley is that, even on Crown Land, a permit is required before one can build a trail. The bureaucratic process to get the permit, build the trail, and then arrange for maintenance, is Byzantine. It also needs to be sponsored by an organization, and posted in the BC Gazette a two-part publication that provides the latest legal notices and provincial regulations.

An example of this is the Roger Creek Nature Trail. It has been around for the entire time I have been living here (ahem, 34 years). A kiosk exists with an excellent map of the trail system at the trailhead. Yet it’s not on the ACRD website, nor is it a Gazetted trail. Yet it is on Crown Land. So there is no official protection of it despite it being within the Hupacasath Woodlot.

The trails in the Community Forest are in a similar situation, on Crown Land, yet without any official sanction. Many others, especially ones that lead to alpine areas, also live in this limbo world. They are promoted on websites like Valley of Trails, TrailPeak, AllTrails, Wikiloc, or TrailForks.

It’s great to have all these trails, even if they don’t add up to 100. However, it really makes it difficult to promote them, with signage and parking, without the full support of government.

Some relevant websites if you’re interested in learning more about trails in the Alberni Valley:

https://www.portalberni.ca/trail-information

https://www.acrd.bc.ca/trail-maps

https://mountainclubs.org/programs/trails-and-access/trails-on-crown-land/

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