I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Alberni Lookout lately, hawk-watching. Spending all that time there gave me some time to think about this prominent local land mark. It is also a land use problem. The view is stunning. It really is. Sunsets are out of this world. The whole Alberni Valley stretches out before you. From it you can see the Comox Glacier, the length of the Beaufort Range, Thunder Mountain, Great Central Lake, the Martin Mars, Taylor Arm, Battleship Island, farmlands and the patchwork of the working forest. Not to mention Port Alberni itself. From a strategic, economic, educational, and tourism perspective, it is an enormous resource. It needs to be treated with more respect.
When I came to the valley in 1985, the fire tower had been gone a while. The story is that it burnt down in the 60s or 70s. At that time the lookout looked pretty much like does now, except there’s more glass, charcoal, butts and beer cans. There are also fewer trees, casualties of the high jinx that go on up there. The moss that grew on the rocks is mostly gone, and the ground has been driven over by generations of visitors.
There are a number of ways to get there. It’s located up the Export Road, as it’s called on the maps. The road goes up from Coombs Country Candy. It’s three kilometers to the top, but it takes almost half an hour. The road is in good shape until you pass the second driveway. Past that, it is 4WD, quads, motor bikes, mountain bikes or hiking. The road will take you right to the top through big bumps and puddles the size of small ponds. That is part of its charm for lots of people.
Hiking is a popular way to get up. Besides the road, there are two trails from Coombs Country Candy. Both start down the old rail grade that follows the base of the Beauforts. From the bottom to the lookout takes me about 40 minutes if I give’er. But there are alot of younger people who can do it in much less time. Some of them prefer to cycle up along the road and take the trail down. Trying to cycle down is only for experts though. But if you are hiking up, it’s good to be aware that you could encounter a bike coming down at you.
Having put in 8 hours at the lookout over three days, I was impressed with the number of people that I saw. There were tourists, a pair from France, and a pair from the British Isles, several bike riders, lots of hikers, and one young fellow who drove the whole way up and got high-centred on a rock at the top. We heard a sickening scrape, but the truck seemed to survive OK. He, his girlfriend and another guy ended up rolling a huge rotten log off the top over the rock until it crashed down on the forest below. All this activity was during the week. On the weekend, if the weather is decent, there is bound to be much more activity.
So what can be done? I think we can all agree that although the view is fantastic, the foreground is pretty much trashed. I was slightly embarrassed when I met the tourists. And party fires up there have the potential to spread to the surrounding forest. The land is owned by Island Timberlands. Over the years the company has faced public criticism over plans to in the area. But so far no agreement has been reached over access and security. Awkwardly, although the lookout itself is within the Regional District of Alberni-Clayoquot, the access road winds into the Regional District of Nanaimo. So there is jurisdictional coordination required.
Someone came up with the idea of a pub or a restaurant on the location. It would be a great location for something like that, and having a permanent presence like that would address security, the logistics of repairing the road, finding a parking lot, getting power, and water to the site, are daunting. And then there are the negotiations required to subdivide and purchase the property, as well as negotiations on use of the road. The road itself may travel over some of the aquifer used by the properties along the highway.
There are all kinds of barriers and bureaucracy in the way of making this landmark something to be proud of. I think it can be done but it will take political will, leadership and dedication to do it. Will this come from the Board of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District? That’s where it should come from. But their track record on parks in this part of the world is weak.