Organizers and dignitaries have formally opened the southern trailhead of the Vancouver Island Trail at a ceremony at Anderson Hill Park in Oak Bay.
When completed, the 770-kilometre trail will stretch from the park, on the southeast corner of Vancouver Island, to Cape Scott, on the northwest.
“Thursday’s ceremony was a huge milestone for the project,” said Ken Milbrath, president of the Vancouver Island Trail Association, who is overseeing the trail’s creation.
The association, formed in 2009, has been steadily linking existing backcountry hiking routes through public land. The trail winds through forests as well as rugged coastlines.
Only 140 kilometres of trail, all sitting in private land owned by two forest companies, remain to be added to complete it.
The main blockade is two sections around Cowichan Lake and Port Alberni. The two sections — essentially old logging roads — have been closed to public access over concerns regarding liability.
With regional governments signalling that they would be open to classifying the trail as an easement, the last sections could join the trail in “a couple of years,” Milbrath said.
“When complete, the Vancouver Island Trail has the potential to become an economic driver for the region.”
Liz Bicknell, president of the Outdoor Club of Victoria, agrees.
“The opening of the trail can be a boon for smaller communities that are now just dependent on the forestry industry,” said Bicknell, who is also the fundraising director for the Vancouver Island Trail Association.
“Hikers will need food, accommodation and other ancillary businesses so vital for smaller communities.”
A hike along the trail in its entirety would take between two to three months; Milbrath said people are already taking day trips and overnight trips on existing portions of the trail.
One of the most famous hiking routes is the Camino de Santiago, which is nearly 800 kilometres in length. The path, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once used by pilgrims to visit a religious shrine in Spain.
“I like to tell people that a trip along the Vancouver Island Trail is no less spectacular, with hikers encountering 49 separate First Nations along the way,” Milbrath said. “All have different history of art, culture and language to tell.”
The opening will be followed up with the planned erection of a kiosk in Anderson Hill Park, with plaques giving information on the trail.
The society is accepting donations to help cover the cost of trail construction.
For more information, go to vi-trail.ca.