Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail is re-opening to overnight visitors in June 2021.
The 75-kilometre trail runs between Port Renfrew and Bamfield, passing through the territories of Huu-ay-aht, Pacheedhat and Ditidaht First Nations.
In consultation with Parks Canada, “the three First Nations came to a decision to open it with safety precautions in place,” said Ditidaht First Nation elected chief Brian Tate.
After being closed for the 2020 season, Parks Canada will begin accepting reservations on April 30, which are being offered to Canadian residents only between June 4 to September 30.
Tate said the decision was made after community members had received their vaccines and before the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the province, which recorded 1,262 new cases on Friday, April 9.
The important thing for Huu-ay-aht is that safety protocols are in place so that not only their citizens are safe, but the territory itself, said Trevor Cootes, Huu-ay-aht elected councillor.
“We need to be very mindful of where COVID-19 cases are at and how those impact our community,” said Cootes. “Even with vaccinations, Huu-ay-aht will always be mindful of making sure that we make prudent decisions around keeping our citizens within the territory safe and the people that travel into the territory.”
Although the national reservation system does not prevent bookings based on traveller’s origin, Parks Canada and the surrounding nations expect visitors to honour current travel advisories and ask that only people who reside in Canada hike the trail, said Karen Haugen, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve superintendent.
“Visitors have a shared responsibility to limit the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said Haugen. “Local First Nations are asking visitors to pay attention to local signs and community protocols, complete a self-assessment before travelling to the area, and follow the guidelines of public health experts, including travel restrictions.”
To reduce potential crowding on the trail, Parks Canada, local First Nations and commercial operators have been meeting to discuss forthcoming strategies.
“These strategies will be confirmed before the trail opens and could include a reduction in daily available spaces for the trail, restrictions around group sizes, and requirements for hikers to stick within their own bubble and avoid grouping,” said Haugen.
After being closed for a year due to COVID-19, reservations for the Windsurf Park and Caycuse Campground opened on April 7. The Ditidaht-owned campground will run at 50 per cent capacity from May 21 to September 30.
A haven for kiteboarders and windsurfers, the recently expanded campground sits on the shores of Nitinaht Lake and the winding Caycuse River.
“The bookings were non-stop from morning-to-night,” said Bryan Cofsky, Ditidaht Economic Development Corporation executive director. “It's such a popular spot and people are just dying to get out.”
Visitors will be required to make an online reservation prior to arrival as no sites will by available to walk-ins.
The campground will be accessed through a security gate and a reservation confirmation will be needed before entry is permitted.
“[Visitors] will not be interacting with our community,” said Tate. “There will be guidelines set-out for where they can and cannot travel to-and-from.”
Construction of the campground began in Fall 2019 and is ongoing as improvements and upgrades to picnic tables, fire rings and roads continue. To date, an additional 40 tent sites and five new RV sites have been added, said Cofsky.
“We've been working with council and the community to make sure that we've got all our safety protocols in place,” said Cofsky. “We've had a lot of time to adjust and we feel that we're safely able to open by spacing out the sites.”
Huu-ay-aht intends to open the Pachena Campground, but the nation is working through protocol before beginning to take online reservations, said Trevor Cootes, Huu-ay-aht elected councillor.
“We're aiming to be open this year, being very mindful of the ever changing environment that we're in in B.C.,” said Cootes. “Hopefully cases will decrease like they did last summer, recognizing that could also change and go in the other direction.”
Along with the West Coast Trail, the campgrounds are following the guidelines laid out by provincial health officials.
“Huu-ay-aht is very resilient,” said Cootes. “We’ve gone through pandemics and famines before. We’re resilient and we’ve been demonstrating that through the past 13 months … hopefully we’re on the other side of this.”