Friday, August 11, 2006

Development in B.C. parks
Aug. 11, 2006

Parks are important places. They’re gifts from the taxpayers of today to every generation that follows, in perpetuity. Any change to the way we use our parks is potential cause for alarm, because one bad policy shift is all it takes to betray the public trust that our parks represent.
With that in mind, here’s hoping that British Columbians think long and hard about what it will mean in the long-term to open up more development in B.C. parks. A call for proposals went out this week for construction in six provincial parks, and six more will be put on the list at the end of August. We have mere months to decide if this is what we want for our parks.
The wonderfully isolated Cape Scott Provincial Park was on this week’s list, and thus could be the future site of a small lodge, cabins or yurts. As Parks Minister Barry Penner noted, that would make things much nicer for Cape Scott visitors who didn’t like to tent. But is it true to the park legacy entrusted to us?
I hiked the park seven years ago with my youngest daughter, 14 at the time. We backpacked and tented for six days, and emerged at least five pounds slimmer from the hard work of it. The experience was all about doing for ourselves, in a wild environment that at times was quite daunting.
The park is perched at the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island, 16 kilometres away from teeniest, tiniest Holberg and a jouncy 70 kilometres away, on a gravel road, from Port Hardy, the nearest community of any size. The trails are rough, sparse, and snarled with tree roots. When it rains - and it often does - the mud can be thigh-deep in some spots.
There’s no water supply beyond that of the local creek system, nor any guarantee that you won’t get sick from drinking it should you forget to bleach, boil or otherwise treat it. Campers quickly learn to stake their tents well above the tide line, and to scramble like the dickens to uproot camp when the tide rolls in even higher regardless. Were you to hurt yourself along the way, help would come eventually, but not easily.
Add in a six-hour drive to Port Hardy from Victoria, the many months of the year when the hiking trails are almost impassable, and the fact that you’ll be carrying all your supplies and equipment on your back, and you get the picture. Nothing about experiencing Cape Scott park is about ease and convenience.
Nor was it in 1973 when the park was created. Then as now, part of what made Cape Scott a special place was that you really had to put some effort into it to visit the park. B.C. has any number of accessible and spectacular beaches and misty forests. What distinguishes Cape Scott is its sense of splendid isolation.
I can understand an aversion to tenting. I prefer a motorhome myself. But parks are preserved for reasons beyond a person’s immediate need to get a more comfy night’s sleep. So while Parks Minister Penner may indeed be right that more people would visit Cape Scott if they didn’t have to sleep in a tent, that has nothing to do with why Cape Scott was designated a provincial park.
The north Island has suffered immensely from the shifting fortunes of the forest and fishing industries. An influx of bigger crowds to Cape Scott would be a wonderful development for the struggling merchants and retailers who are hanging on for their lives in Port Hardy. But that mustn’t come at the cost of the park itself.
Holberg and Port Hardy are ideally situated for the kind of development the government is touting. Sprawling backpack supply stores, end-of-trip accommodation for hikers preparing for or wrapping up their trip, strings of restaurants for the ravenous hordes emerging from the culinary disciplines of backpacking with an urge to eat and drink just about anything - it could all unfold a mere 15 minutes’ drive from the park’s border.
Visitors who wanted to stay inside the park without having to tent would still be out of luck under such a plan. But that group isn’t going to like the rugged muck of the trails beyond San Josef Bay anyway (or is the next phase of the plan to pave the path?). If you can’t bear to tent, chances are that the whole rough-and-ready trip through Cape Scott park won’t be too appealing.
Each of the 12 parks now listed for development were set aside for different reasons by the various governments of the day. Some might dovetail quite nicely with the current government’s commercial interests. A big new lodge or a string of cabins might be exactly what’s needed at a more urban park.
But not Cape Scott. It was given to us to keep wild. Thirty-three years into the legacy, we don’t have the right to change our minds.

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