I think Sproat Falls is one of the most overlooked tourist attractions in the Alberni Valley. Despite it being less than 100 meters from the Highway 4 bridge over the Sproat River, it is scarcely even visible from it, and there are no signs to indicate that it is there. The number of visitors that travel Highway 4 annually is reputed to be a million. Many of them are from out of province, out of country and out of continent. It’s a big trip for them. They have all heard about the salmon migration. Whether they are fishermen or not, they would love an opportunity to see the migration in action.
This is a place where at least 100,000 sockeye salmon pass every year with the majority passing between mid-June and mid-July. At that time the abundance of fish is impressive. It could be very easy for the travelling public to stop for a few minutes in their headlong dash to the Pacific Rim. The fish ladder there, the cliff and the old forest perched on and around it combine to make it quite scenic. And it’s hardly even a detour.
The area should be a park of some sort. In fact, it almost is. The area is designated Park Use on the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s Official Community Plan (OCP) for the area. But there are some hurdles, and a bit of leg work to actually make it so.
There are 5 properties involved and possibly the Klehkoot Indian Reserve belonging to the Hupacasath. Of the five, only the two biggest properties are public lands, Seaton Park, and the pie-shaped property adjacent the park. Seton Park belongs to the City of Port Alberni, God knows why. The other property is an isolated chunk of Crown Land. It shades Highway 4 with some nice old forest. Through both properties goes an old grade some call Brand Avenue. It starts at the end of Hector Road and ends just above the Highway 4 bridge.
Adjacent to the Crown Land toward the bridge, are two small properties, one on each side of the old grade. They are jammed between the Sproat River and Highway 4. The one next to the highway is privately owned and has an old log cabin on it and is not likely part of what I’m proposing. The one next to the river is undeveloped and likely could never be developed because the setbacks for buildings required by the Regional District virtually eliminate any possibility for building on it. However useless it may seem, it is privately owned. Finally, just before the bridge there is a smaller parcel of Island Timberlands property that also has little value for the same reason. Just past Faber Road on the right is a rough gravel road that leads down to Brand Ave. Brand Ave actually passes under the highway bridge. It would join the old Ash Main if it were not for the string of boulders across the road.
This road has been on the ACRD’s radar for a while because of the fact that is a popular spot for illegal dumping. Sproat Lake District Board Member Penny Cote says that because Highways considers this Gazetted road, it is blocking the Regional District’s ambition to establish a vehicle-free corridor along the river, thus frustrating people’s ability to dump garbage along it. It is, however, blocked by several large boulders under the bridge.
So clearly, there is some legwork to be done. The owner of the private property needs to be contacted to see if could be sold to the Regional District and a price set. Another option could be through a covenant or some other creative arrangement. Similarly, a negotiation has to take place with Island Timberlands. The Regional District also needs to talk to both the city of Port Alberni and the Province. A plan needs to be drawn up for parking, washroom facilities and perhaps a fence along the top of the cliff. This adds up to a fair bit of staff time. However, the cost to acquire the properties and to install the facilities should be quite modest.
It comes down to political will. Is the current or future Regional District board willing to make the effort? They have taken some steps along the way. It is in the Sproat Lake OCP. They have established a Parks Service Review Committee. And they are exploring ways of acquiring and funding a Regional Park system. In 2015 they produced a Parks & Trails Strategic Plan, where a framework for the acquisition and establishment for parks and trails was laid out. Buried at the end of Appendix A, the Public Wish List, these properties are mentioned. Clearly from a local’s perspective, this area is a very low priority. From the travelling public’s perspective it is completely unknown. That is why I say it is the most overlooked tourist attraction in the Alberni Valley.