Two kayakers make their way toward Portage Inlet along the Gorge Waterway near View Royal. A 15-kilometre circular paddling route is proposed along the shores of five municipalities

Group hopes to jazz up waterways

Project aims to improve accessibility of popular paddling route

Support is growing for a waterway loop that would connect five of the region’s municipalities and create more safety and awareness for paddlers.

The Victoria Waterways Loop would be a 15-kilometre circular paddling route, with 15 rest stops or launch points scattered along the shoreline of five municipalities, including Victoria, Esquimalt, Saanich, View Royal and Colwood.

Spearheaded by the Victoria Waterways Loop group, the loop is already used by numerous recreational kayakers and kayaking groups and tours that use the waterway.

There are a number of stops such as the Songhees Point near the Delta Ocean Pointe Hotel and Banfield Park in Vic West, as well as the beach near Craigflower Schoolhouse in Saanich, which allows paddlers to come in and out of the water safely.

However, the aim is to improve existing paddling routes with signage, to ensure it is safe and accessible for all age groups and skill levels.

The group also hopes to create a brochure to distribute at local recreation centres and in other areas, to inform residents about safe places to paddle, specifically related to the Inner and Esquimalt harbours.

“There’s also the environmental stewardship aspect. We don’t want people to go up rivers in sensitive ecosystems and the estuaries, and the whole loop allows people to see the path and stay on the path,” said View Royal councillor and group volunteer John Rogers.

The hope, he added, is that municipalities will consider retro-fitting public docks and ensure that new docks are accessible for multi-use paddle craft.

While the Town of View Royal is still seeking input from its parks advisory committee on access for paddlers as part of finalizing the Town’s parks master plan, substantial work has already been done near Shoreline Community Middle School.

In partnership with the Greater Victoria School District and CRD Parks, in 2015 it opened the portage trail that links Shoreline Drive with Island Highway. And a stone’s throw from the trailhead on the school grounds is an access pathway to Portage Inlet that has been substantially completed.

The route will provide close, direct access to the waterway for the school’s voyageur canoe program, as well as emergency crews.

The last stage will be construction of a dock at the water’s edge, but Rogers said work on that element must wait until conditions are appropriate for environmental concerns.

The Waterways Loop group has produced a draft brochure with important safety and environmental information and distributed it to clubs, residents and parks staff, he said, adding that it was well received this year.

Meanwhile, Victoria city council last week committed to the creation of signage for the city’s portion of the loop next year and to consider funding for potential infrastructure upgrades in 2018.

“I think it’s becoming more accessible and affordable for people to get out on the water,” said Coun. Jeremy Loveday, who brought the motion forward.

“This is something we need to continue to focus on – how do we bring life to the gem that is our harbour and our waterways? It’s the key part of what makes our city so special and we need to invest in that and make sure our world-class waterways are getting the attention and care they deserve.”

Several Victoria councillors echoed the importance of using the waterways to teach residents and tourists about First Nations history in the region, especially in conjunction with the Year of Reconciliation.

Tourism Victoria has also thrown its support behind the project. In a letter, president and CEO Paul Nursey said the loop creates more opportunities for people to check out retailers, restaurants and cafes along the loop, and adds another reason for visitors to extend their stay at accommodation properties.

For more information on the waterways project, visit vicwaterloop.ca.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

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