British Columbia·Photos

Volunteer-built boardwalk showcases protected old-growth near Port Renfrew

Volunteers on Vancouver Island hope the completion of a boardwalk through a section of old-growth forest near Port Renfrew will help prove that B.C.'s giant trees are more valuable standing.

4-year effort to build stairs and viewing platforms in Avatar Grove a labour of love

T.J. Watt with the Ancient Forest Alliance helped coordinate the build weekends for volunteers in Avatar Grove. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Volunteers on Vancouver Island hope the completion of a boardwalk through a section of old-growth forest near Port Renfrew will help prove that B.C.'s giant trees are more valuable standing.

The ancient trees in Avatar Grove have been protected from logging since 2012.

But the trails and boardwalk to make them accessible to tourists for viewing, led by the Ancient Forest Alliance, has taken four years to complete.

Volunteers have spent four years building stairs and platforms in Avatar Grove. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"Hundreds of people have come out to help, to carry buckets of gravel up through the trail, to carry heavy boardwalk planks, hammering thousands of nails and swatting a million mosquitos," said T.J. Watt, boardwalk coordinator for the group.

Port Renfrew has long relied on forestry and commercial fishing as main industries. But outdoor recreation and eco-tourism are a growing part of the economy.

In recent years, the town has even rebranded as Canada's tall tree capital, thanks in part to the thousands of visitors per year who now come to see the big trees in Avatar Grove, Watt said.

Avatar Grove is home to a tree known as "Canada's gnarliest tree." (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"Avatar Grove really is a case study in showing how protecting old-growth forest can be a huge boom to the economy rather than hindering it," he said.

Materials for the project were paid for through public donations and grants from companies such as MEC and Patagonia, Watt said.

The Ancient Forest Alliance hopes the viewing platforms and boardwalks will make the grove of old growth forest accessible to more people. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Avatar Grove is located on Crown land within the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation. It received protection from logging following a two-year awareness campaign by the Ancient Forest Alliance.

Now that the boardwalk is complete, Watt says attention will now turn to protecting other old-growth areas in B.C.

One such area was discovered this spring between Port Renfrew and Jordan River. It has been dubbed Jurassic Grove for the size of the trees. 

Heavy wood planks had to be carried into the forest to build the boardwalk. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"We feel that other communities around British Columbia can look to Port Renfrew as an example of how they can protect old growth forest in their own community and stand to benefit from that," he said.

"We are not saying end all logging across the province. We just need to do it in a smarter, more sustainable way."