Funding is being sought by the ministry of natural resource operations to upgrade Powell Forest Canoe Route and improve what is a unique and important tourism resource for the region.
The goal is to increase accessibility of the route and make it more manageable for outdoor enthusiasts. Western Forest Products (WFP), which holds tenure for the route and which currently maintains the route, will be acting as project manager for the upgrade, which is estimated to cost roughly $212,000.
Established about 30 years ago, the route encompasses eight lakes, 77 kilometres of canoeing and about 9.5 kilometres of portage. Camping spots dot the route, which typically takes around five days for the casual traveller.
Rudi Van Zwaaij, area forester with WFP, said upgrades will include improving the portage trails to make them suitable for canoe and kayak wheel carts. Currently boats must be carried during the portage portions of the route. Money will go toward putting in a gravel base for the trails and, in some instances, rerouting the trails to make them less steep.
Upgrades to campsites are also proposed. Van Zwaaij said many of the sites are in need of new fire pits and improved tenting areas. An increase in the number of campsites is also a mandate, especially in the more remote areas and with larger group camping in mind. Upgrades to picnic tables and increased signage along the trails is also in the works.
The steepness of the portage trail from Windsor Lake to Goat Lake is of particular concern, according to Richard de Vos, recreation technician with the ministry. Ideally the trail will be rerouted to make it easier to navigate.
Feedback left by users on campsite suggestion forms and expressed to maintenance workers has helped organizers plan the type of work that needs to be done. To be able to wheel canoes has been the most common comment, something which will bring the route up to par with others of its kind and potentially increase its popularity with outdoor enthusiasts.
De Vos said about $120,000 in provincial funding has already been secured and now an application is being submitted to the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) for an additional $100,000 for the upgrades. If all the money comes through organizers hope to have the work done by mid-summer. Should they only receive the provincial funding they may complete the project over a longer period of time as money becomes available.
The ministry is currently seeking letters of support from various local agencies to include in its application to ICET. Powell River Regional Board passed a motion December 20 to write a letter in support and de Vos said that Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society, the Outdoor Recreation User Groups and the Powell River ATV Club have already indicated their support.
Van Zwaaij has been maintaining the trail with WFP for about 20 years. Over the years he and others have replaced things here and fixed things there, he said, but a major upgrade is very much needed. Having completed the trail many times, Van Zwaaij said he always enjoys spending time in the area.
“It’s amazing. Although it’s a working forest it still gives you that experience you’re in a wilderness area. People really enjoy it. We have a lot of repeat people who come back.”
Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit near Barkersville is an inspiration to organizers of the route upgrades, who would like to see the route here gain the same reputation it has with canoeists. De Vos once worked as a park ranger in the Bowron area and believes that the Powell River route is
comparable in beauty.
With Powell River already becoming well known for its outdoor activities of boundless potential, de Vos believes that an upgraded canoe route will have great capability for bringing in even more tourists.
Darren Robinson, Tourism Powell River’s executive director, said that the route already generates a considerable amount of tourism and that any upgrades would only go toward further increasing its draw. Robinson believes the route is a very distinguishable asset for the area and that, along with Bowron, it is one of the only other canoe routes in the province.
Tourists who come to do the route also end up spending at least five days in the area, something which works toward bolstering the local economy. Robinson met one man this past summer who spent two months in and around the canoe route and has met many groups who have spent a week or two in the area. Many travellers come from overseas too, said Robinson, as the route is quite popular with German and Dutch outdoor enthusiasts.
Work going ahead to upgrade the trail now relies directly on funding. Upgrades will start in the new year with the funding that has already been secured, but just how far the work can do depends on getting other money. The work itself will be contracted out and a tender released once plans have been finalized.