British Columbia

Province to tackle traffic woes at popular old-growth forest tourist spot — again

The province is taking a new approach to solve an ongoing traffic problem at one of B.C.'s most popular old groves of trees, which happens to have a major highway running through it.

About 500,000 people visit scenic Cathedral Grove each year

The province is trying to find solutions to prevent safety problems, such as parking on the highway, at Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park outside Port Alberni. (Government of British Columbia/flickr)

The province is taking a new approach to solve an ongoing traffic problem at one of B.C.'s most popular old groves of trees, which also happens to have a major highway running through it.

Starting on Wednesday, the province will begin a series of open houses and collect online feedback about how to solve traffic jams and dangerous pedestrian crossings on Highway 4 at Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park outside Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.

A woman crosses Highway 4 in Cathedral Grove in November 2018. (CHEK News)

It's been been more than 15 years since the province last attempted to fix traffic problems at Cathedral Grove. The previous attempt didn't solve the safety issues at the popular site, which brings tourists from around the globe. About 500,000 people visit the site each year.

'It's hairy'

In the early-2000s, a government plan to cut down some of the ancient trees to make space for a parking lot was met with fierce opposition. Those opposed wrote angry letters, attended public forums and protested at the park.

Annette Tanner and her husband Scott worked to protect the park during that time with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

"It's very fragile," said Tanner about the ecosystem of the park which is surrounded by logging areas and is susceptible to strong winds.

A pathway in Cathedral Grove, which is part of MacMillan Provincial Park. In 1944, forester H.R. MacMillan donated 136 hectares of land to be preserved for its unique stand of trees, mostly giant Douglas firs. (Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce)

The province did set up traffic-calming measures, such as lights and reduced speed limits, but the problem along Highway 4 has continued to fester as the number of visits rise. Drivers park along the highway and others get annoyed with delays in getting through the area.

Safety is also still a problem as people often cross the two-lane highway to access trails that showcase the trees, some which are nine metres in diameter and 800 years old.

Get the highway out of the forest

Gary and Ronda Murdock have been taking tourists to Cathedral Grove with their company, Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours, for 18 years. The couple knows the traffic issues well and say some drivers still don't slow down.

"It's hairy," said Gary Murdock. "I do see a lot of very impatient people."

The Tanners and Murdocks want the province to reroute the highway around the park. They say this option would make Cathedral Grove a destination, rather than a thoroughfare.

The province said in a release that the aim of the new engagement is to determine how best to address safety and parking concerns at Cathedral Grove, "while protecting environmental, social and cultural values."

John Jack, who lives near the area, often goes to the site with his children. Jack chairs the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District board of directors and is a member of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation. He says he's encouraged by how the province is handling the issues at Cathedral Grove this time.

"I think they're particularly sensitive in regards to how things had happened several years prior with protests," he said.

Cathedral Grove is about a 20 minute drive along Highway 4 from Port Alberni B.C. Some advocates want the province to reroute the highway around the park. (Google Maps)

The transportation and infrastructure ministry says it plans to share initial concepts in the spring of 2019, which will then be followed by more public engagement.

With files from Jean Paetkau.

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