Paddling enthusiasts want to establish a “marine trail” through the Discovery Islands – a chain of launch sites, rest areas, safe havens and camps that would connect Sayward to Powell River, with Campbell River as the hub.
“Campbell River has a really good potential as a core for new routes,” said John Kimantas, Discovery Islands project manager with the BC Marine Trails Network Association.
The network, which would allow kayakers and other small-craft seafarers to navigate the region without resorting to illicit wilderness campsites, was the topic of a workshop on Tuesday evening at the Campbell River Maritime Heritage Centre.
A map of the proposed area for the marine trail includes the maze-like system of waterways amongst the Discovery Islands and several major inlets on the Mainland. The system of water routes would potentially form part of a long-dreamt-of trail stretching from Alaska to Washington State.
“That’s the end vision, to link everything,” said Kimantas, who also pitched the idea to Campbell River city council on June 11, receiving a letter of support from the city.
The ambitious plan is meant to respect First Nations whose territories the network would traverse, said Kimantas.
“First Nations is a huge piece of the puzzle – in fact, it’s pretty much paramount,” he said.
There are seven Indigenous peoples with core interests in the area, he said – the We Wai Kum, We Wai Kai, Kwiakah, Homalco, Tla’amin and Klahoose – and several others with what he described as secondary interests – the Halalt, Stz’uminus, Lyackson and Penelakut, along with the Cowichan Tribes.
The association is currently in “good communications” with six of the seven core First Nations, he said, adding that talks are underway about a potential partnership with the Nanwakolas Council, which represents several of the Indigenous peoples whose lands would be affected.
The threat of degradation to sites along the potential trail is one of the major challenges for the project, he said.
“We don’t want to be the group that goes in and loves something to death,” he said, adding that campsites in the region are currently being ruined by what he called “anarchy in the wilderness.”
Kimantas, who is well-known as the author of works including the Wild Coast guidebooks, travelled to Campbell River on his 36-foot motor cruiser after meetings in Powell River and on Cortez and Quadra.
Following his presentation about the project, the 20 or so people who showed up – mainly paddling enthusiasts and some tourism professionals – discussed issues including access to drinking water along the trail, threats to sensitive locations and the safety of paddlers among the fast-moving channels.
“You could wind up in the wrong place without being properly prepared for what goes on in those channels between the islands,” said Bob Shafer, a director with the Campbell River Paddlers, a local sea kayaking group. But he expressed enthusiasm about the project.
“The more accessible it is, the more sites there are… that would be intriguing to me,” he said.
Jess Cavanagh, who works at the Blind Channel Resort on West Thurlow Island, where she does “a little bit of everything,” including operating a water taxi, seconded concerns about safety in the fast currents, saying she has “rescued more than one kayaker.”
Overall, participants seemed cautiously optimistic about the project, which is still in its feasibility study phase.
The BC Marine Trails Network Association, the group spearheading the effort, traces its history to the 1990s. Its forerunner was a group of paddlers inspired by author Peter McGee’s vision of a kayak route from Washington State to Alaska.
According to the association’s website, this earlier group set up a campsite and a composting toilet for marine travellers on Valdez Island, along with a rest stop and bathroom facilities on Salt Spring. But the group dissolved, and the project floundered.
A revitalized association formed in 2007 and received support from the provincial government. It soon began opening a network of trails, including one in Howe Sound, between Vancouver and Squamish.
For those who couldn’t attend the public meeting, the group is accepting input via email. Contact Kimantas at email@example.com