West Coast Wild Adventures all started in Costa Rica for owner Louis Rouleau.
“I have a float plane here and it’s slow to fly in the winter time; days are short, lots of storms, no tours,” said Rouleau, who opened his ziplining adventure business five years ago near Kennedy Lake on Highway 4.
So Rouleau flew down to Costa Rica in hopes of finding more business there during his slow season up here.
“Everybody wanted me, all the resorts did,” he said.
“But when I checked into the legalities of it, it wasn’t going to work.”
But when Rouleau was in Costa Rica he stumbled across something else; a zip line.
He’d never been on one before but jumped at the chance to try one in Costa Rica.
“It was the very first zip line I’d ever been on,” Rouleau said.
It was also the first commercial zip line to open anywhere in world—something that inspired Rouleau.
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“It was built at Monteverde and it was built by Canadians,” he said.
“So I went on it. I met all these strangers; there were 10 of us on the tour. I didn’t know anybody but we did this zip line together and it was such and amazing bonding experience,” he said.
“All of these strangers, we were so excited and we went for beers after…it was such a cool thing.”
The thrill of the ride and the intense feeling of bonding was something Rouleau thought he could replicate at home.
“I decided that we could probably do this in Canada because we have trees in Canada, right?”
When he returned home to the west coast he spent months looking all around western Vancouver Island for a location.
“It was all pretty generic, just trees, and wouldn’t have been really cool.”
It was by chance that he found Haa’uukmin—a tribal park of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.
“One day I was flying by and the river was just roaring. It was just this amazing white, roaring outrageous river,” he said.
“I just thought ‘wow!’”
That river was the Kennedy River, part of the Kennedy Lake watershed that makes up the Tla-o-qui-aht’s Haa’uukmin tribal park. Tribal parks were created to protect the land and water while also allowing for complementary usage.
So Rouleau got in touch with the Tla-o-qui-aht to figure out how a zip line could fit into their plans.
“I went to a couple of sessions with them so that we could make a proposal to the band council,” he said.
The band council said yes, leading to a partnership that would bear fruit for both Rouleau and the Tla-o-qui-aht: and West Coast Wild was born.
When plans were solidified, a succession plan was part of the deal, he explained.
“Eventually we would form a company together and they would buy us out. Over the next five years, they would take over the company.”
That date for the creation of that company is now two years away, Rouleau added.
He’s built the Tla-o-qui-aht something amazing, hidden away on the highway between Port Alberni and Ucluelet.
“We’ve been working on it every year,” said Rouleau.
Six zip lines from as long as 220 metres now cover the park, letting visitors zoom over the Kennedy River canyon.
Jumping off the first platform sends you careening through a canyon, dozens of feet above the rushing, roiling river. Many visitors hang on for dear life, but for the more fearless the sky is the limit for aerobatic moves—all while attached to the sturdy zip line.
Knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guides Kelly Bedford and Jesse Thompson take guest through the zip lines.
From hooking you up to the zip line to quizzing you about the forest (hint: the answer is always C!), to thanking Brutus (you’ll find out after the first zip line) their passion is easy to see.
It’s a passion that has garnered them the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for the fifth consecutive year.
“It’s amazing, we’re very proud,” said Rouleau of the win that got them into Trip Advisor’s Hall of Fame.
Below the zip lines, paddleboard tours are offered during the summer months. Above, there’s a helicopter ride that takes you above the tree canopy, around the canyon and all the way down to just feet above the river bed.
And there’s more yet to build. “We’re starting on staff accommodations,” said Rouleau.
“We really want to hire First Nations and a lot of the younger people don’t have driver’s licences.”
A 15-foot hot tub and some on-site food are further off plans as well.
“We want to be able to work the shoulder seasons, the spring and fall, and with this kind of dreary weather if you have a hot tub to settle into then that solves that problem.”