City of Powell River and qathet Regional District, places of natural beauty and rugged outdoors, attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Visitors flock here for the trails and kayaking, and the numerous festivals that happen in the summer months. qathet is not only a tourist destination, but a working community, with logging, fishing and other industries, such as mining and aquaculture. The region has, so far, maintained a balance of tourism and industry, fairly successfully.
“Statistically, the main attractions in Powell River are [our local] hiking trails, followed by the Sunshine Coast Trail, (SCT) which has seen returns of numbers close to pre-COVID-19, now that the huts are open again,” said Tracey Ellis, executive director of Tourism Powell River. “Kayaking, heritage sites [historic Townsite, qathet Museum and Archives, and Texada Island Museum] and Lund are the next popular places for visitors.”
BC has seen a general trend in people accessing more rugged areas.
“There has been an uptick in interest from visitors in accessing the backcountry, which necessitates cautions around logging activities and limited access to roads,” explained Ellis.
Attractions such as the Powell Forest Canoe Route, which is a 57-kilometre, eight-lake journey, is a good example of balancing industry with tourism.
Powell River Educational Services Society (PRESS), an Indigenous-led nonprofit, began to revitalize and upgrade the canoe route in 2021, which is projected to be completed later this year.
“We are now trying to rehabilitate some of the more remote campsites,” said Hugh Pritchard, project manager for PRESS.
The route has been in operation for more than 50 years and “the improvements are ongoing and we are constantly taking care of different issues on the trail,” he added.
There are 23 campsites on the route and a portage trail, which is traversed by hundreds of tourists each year. Sunshine Coast Tourism partners with PRESS to promote the route at home and abroad.
“The sites themselves are in excellent condition, and the trail is in good condition,” said Pritchard. “We have replaced all 120 canoe maps and we are building a bridge that connects the portage trail. It’s an ongoing work in progress; we replaced a beautiful brand new dock at Windsor Lake, which is one of our primary sites on the north end of the route.”
He emphasized that PRESS is creating a world-class amenity, and believes in having a collaborative approach with timber holders in the area.
Ellis said sustainable tourism is tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”
“In 2022, the visitor centre provided in-person information to answer 13,630 information requests, of which 6,502 were questions about the Sunshine Coast Trail, kayaking, Powell Forest Canoe Route, Lund and Texada Island,” she added.
Tourism Powell River launched a digital app in 2021 and is now wrapping up its two-year pilot phase. The easy-to-use digital guide provides visitors with a wide variety of information about campgrounds, trails and an urban map detailing eating and shopping establishments.
“Pre-COVID we could determine about 100,000 visitors to the Northern Sunshine Coast annually,” said Ellis. “This has dropped since COVID as we have seen fewer visitors inside the visitor centre. By launching the new community app, we are serving between 5,800 and 7,500 visitors and locals who are utilizing the app.
“The people working in tourism in Powell River and Sunshine Coast Tourism are working hard to promote the region as an attractive outdoor place for visitors, while at the same time, they are concerned about keeping a balance with nature and sustainability.”
Signs were recently put up in the SCT huts, in order to promote a pack-in-pack-out mentality for visitors.
“We hiked in public service announcement vinyl banners and posted at each Sunshine Coast Trail hut, a humorous but pointed messaging around hut use and care of the environment,” said Ellis. “People used to be appalled when I would say we don’t want to be the next Tofino, Whistler or Squamish, but it can be challenging to manage the three sustainability principles that refer to the environmental, economic and sociocultural aspects of tourism development.
“A suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability.”
Local fishing guide Pat Demeester thinks this region could be a “world-class fishery,” and that ecotourism could boom here. However, he is concerned that there are too many stakeholders in the backcountry.
“Everyone around the world wants to go to Nanton Lake,” said Demeester.
That campsite has been closed for the past year by Recreation Sites and Trails BC, which manages the area, out of concern for a dangerous forest stand.
Demeester is also frustrated by garbage and debris left on the shores of the Lois Lake watershed, where he lives and operates as a fishing guide.
Vancouver Coast and Mountains recently released a report from its sustainability council that focuses on some key areas, according to Ellis.
“Improve industry adoption of sustainable and responsible tourism practices; promote respectful and sustainable visitor practices within communities, natural spaces and cultural sites,” she said.
In the past, Tourism Powell River worked with a local business to rent e-bikes to visitors, and the endeavour was successful; however, that business moved to Savary Island.
“We are always open to working with local business partners who have great ideas,” said Ellis. “We promote walking and biking with our street and trail maps and are happy to spend time with visitors helping them navigate the transit system.”
Annie Wise, executive director of Sunshine Coast Tourism is busy thinking and researching this very issue of sustainability and tourism.
“The region’s 10-year Destination Development Strategy, funded by Destination BC and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, was developed over a 12-month process that included engagement and consultation sessions, with local stakeholders, municipal and regional government, and local First Nations,” said Wise.
She added that the report is meant to show the vision, goals and actions that are underway to help ensure the Sunshine Coast/qathet region continues its growth as a vibrant, thriving destination for tourism and to the benefits of residents.
Some of the topics being tackled are transportation improvements up and down the coast, including ongoing efforts to improve the Sunshine Coast cycle route and a consistent shuttle service between the lower and upper Sunshine Coast.