Juan de Fuca Marine Trail reopens, repairs took longer than expected

The B.C. government has re-opened a section of the popular Juan de Fuca Marine Trail after months of repairs that infuriated tourism officials in the region.

A 26-kilometre section of the trail between Mystic Beach and East Sombrio Beach has been closed since February for maintenance.

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It was originally slated to open at the end of April, but repairs took longer than expected and pushed the expected opening to June 30.

Ryan Chamberlain, president of the Sooke to Port Renfrew Tourism Association, was among those decrying the closure as “horrible” for tourism in the region.

He welcomed news that the trail has re-opened slightly ahead of the amended scheduled.

“I think we have to thank the workers of B.C. Parks for doing a great job and doing it sooner than expected,” he said.

“It’s not an easy job that they’re doing. I think the workers probably put in extra effort to get it open, because they understand, by seeing the hikers there, the pressure of having it close. So hats off to those people.”

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said hikers now have access to the entire 47-kilometre trail.

Work crews upgraded park facilities at 24 locations along the trail, repairing or replacing stars, bridges, boardwalks and railings. The work is part of a multi-year project to improve the trail. More work will begin next spring.

The ministry told the Times Colonist last month that the re-opening date was delayed due to problems replacing a critical stair section in an exposed cliff south of Sombrio Beach, around the trail’s 21-kilometre mark.

The stairs were in an area where no detour is available and there are no stable footings to build a safe structure. As a result, an engineered rock-anchored boardwalk and stairs had to be built.

Chamberlain said it’s difficult to estimate the impact of delay, given other issues hurting tourism this year such as the chinook fishery closures.

“I think what everybody has to understand is that when people go to do these hikes it’s planned months in advance,” he said. “So if there is work being done on trails — especially ones that are multiple-day hikes — we do need to have better communication for all stakeholders to prepare for these things, especially for the tourists.”

The government needs to start paying more attention to the economic benefit generated by tourism, “because that’s pretty much the only thing small towns have now,” he said. “We’ve lost logging. We’re losing fishing and now we’re trying to do ecotourism and even that is a struggle.

“That’s the big talk that we need to have with government. We need to create jobs locally, we need to take better care of these issues or these points of interest. So what’s going to be the plan, where’s the money going to come from and how are we going to avoid mistakes.”

— with Times Colonist files

lkines@timescolonist.com

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