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Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park

Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park
Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park

Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is not the easiest place to visit. Hauling our little trailer over  bumpy logging roads took us 4 1/2 hours to get in from Port Alberni, and another 5 hours to get out (we got a little lost) to Duncan. I’d like to thank my driver (Ray) who just knew I’d not give up on it. Once there, there is surprisingly little to see or do.

My Mother’s last major hike of her life back in 1979 was the West Coast Trail, a 75 km route along the wild west coast of Vancouver Island charmingly nicknamed the graveyard of the Pacific. The WCT runs along the western edge of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. She came home with a deeper love for the forest and stories of abuse by the logging industry.  I come by my tree-huggery quite honestly.

Location of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park

Clayoquot Sound – Battle for the Forest

Forestry has always been one of British Columbia’s main industries, but it’s not always been a pretty story. Profit is king for corporations and in the 1970’s and 80’s our ancient forests were being cleared with abandon. Large corporations were clear-cutting huge swathes of land with very little to impede them. Profits soared. Naturalists and local indigenous peoples started to pay attention.  One of Canada’s largest civil disobedience movements was erupting on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The world watched as protests heated up in Clayoquot Sound and surrounding areas. In 1993 almost 900 people were arrested. The protesters were protecting some of the largest trees in the world. The logging industry was fighting to harvest some of the most valuable wood on the planet.

The dedication of 16,000 hectares of old growth forest, now known as Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park was declared a small victory for the protesters.

Fairy Creek Watershed

If anyone thought the battle was won, they would be wrong. The current fight for old growth in the Fairy Creek watershed has surpassed  the Clayoquot Sound protests in civil disobedience arrests. In 2021 1,100 people were arrested in the Fairy Creek watershed, and the court cases continue today.

We parked our Westie in the Fairy Creek battle zone for a day or two, but that was before loggers showed up to threaten violence. It was before people were being dangerously plucked out of trees by helicopters. The area became a powder keg of anger on both sides. When we went to bear witness again the RCMP prevented us from entering the area. The police searched my knapsack. We had to show ID to hike a trail near the contentious area.

Carmanah Walbran Today

In the middle of nowhere, at the end of a long and bumpy ride, we came upon a surprisingly well appointed little campground. The biffies are clean and stocked, firewood is piled up neatly in several camp spots, each sporting a fire pit and picnic table. They are even neatly fenced. Of course we are the only ones here, until …

As we were cooking our evening meal over the fire, a truck pulls up. A couple has come out here “for a drive” and they even brought a little Tucker look alike. They’ve come from the Nitinat reserve, about a half hour away where he has just been hired as the new manager. We had a nice visit, they scouted out the area a bit and then left us alone again.

As quiet and remote as we are, I woke to the sound of chainsaws the next morning. The loggers are literally at the door of the park.

Hiking in Carmanah Walbran
Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park

Disappointing is the only way to describe the trails here. I thought we would be exploring some fabulous old growth. The well maintained camp sites belie the state of the trails. If you can hike 5 k, and that’s in and out and all around, you are lucky. Storms have downed trees over much of the trail system, and no one has been out to clear them in years. There are camping platforms out there somewhere, but we didn’t find them.

This is one of those places I’ll likely never return. It’s just too hard to get to.  I’ll leave this forest to itself for now, and hope those chainsaws stay on the right side of the door.


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