British Columbia

West Coast Trail closed to overnight camping after consultation with First Nations

Parks Canada has closed overnight backcountry access to several areas in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve for the rest of the 2020 season.

'We didn’t do this lightly. It is in the best interest of many people,' says park superintendent

The terrain on the West Coast Trail can be tricky — and treacherous. (Andrew Chang/CBC)

Parks Canada has closed overnight backcountry access to several areas in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve — including the West Coast Trail — for the rest of the 2020 season, after consultation with its First Nation partners.

"The health and safety of First Nation communities, visitors, Parks Canada team members, and of all Canadians is of utmost importance to Parks Canada," said park superintendent Karen Haugen on CBC's All Points West.

In addition to the West Coast Trail, Nitinaht Triangle, Cape Beale Headlands, Keeha Beach, Tapaltos and the Broken Group Islands are closed to overnight camping for the rest of the 2020 season.

First Nations across B.C. have raised the alarm on tourism within their communities during the pandemic, saying they do not have the same resources to test and contain any potential COVID-19 outbreak in a remote First Nations community as in a highly urbanized centre. 

For example, the Nuu-chah-nulth, Heiltsuk Nation and Haida Nation have all closed or restricted access to their territories and reserves to tourists. 

Haugen noted that First Nations communities are the among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and accessing these parts of the park requires people to move through First Nations reserve land and communities. Visitors often come into contact with First Nations beach keepers and guardians. 

"We didn't do this lightly. It is in the best interest of many people," said Haugen.

An aerial shot of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island. (Parks Canada)

The rugged week-long hike along the west coast of Vancouver Island is considered a bucket-list trip for hikers and adventurers. Anyone who had existing reservations will have to make new ones for 2021.

Haugen says, however, she's received lots of positive support from visitors who will have to change their trip plans.

"We've had some really good responses. A lot of people are very understanding. They know the situation, and they feel for many of our First Nations partners who are the most vulnerable during the COVID situation," she said.

There will still be some limited day use of some areas of the park, although no vessels — including kayaks — are permitted to land anywhere within the West Coast Trail.

"We still have people out there because we still have infrastructure that we have to maintain. The beach keepers, guardians, and Parks Canada staff are working on all of the environment core projects," she said.

"Things are still happening, and we're still working together."

Listen to the full segment here:

Camping, hiking, and fishing in places off the beaten path can be good for the soul and good for physical distancing. But it also risks bringing the corona virus to areas with limited medical resources, including Indigenous communities. With that in mind, Parks Canada has decided to close overnight backcountry access to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve for the rest of the 2020 season. That includes the iconic West Coast Trail. Park Superintendent Karen Haugen spoke with Kathryn Marlow. 6:01

With files from All Points West

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