The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail has been fully reopened by the B.C. Environment Ministry following a five-month-long closure for maintenance that left tourist operators fuming.
A 26-kilometre section of the trail between Mystic Beach and Sombrio Beach has been closed since February.
“Tourism is a big part of our economy in Port Renfrew and a closure like this can have some very serious effects on our economy,” said Ryan Chamberlain, the president of the Sooke to Port Renfrew Tourist Association.
“We are already suffering because of (federal) government restrictions on the sport fishing businesses in Port Renfrew, and this has been just another factor that hurt our efforts to attract tourists.”
The trail was closed when ministry officials said high level of use on the pathways and damage done by winter storms had combined to make sections of it unsafe.
Plans had the trail reopening at the end of April, but those plans went by the wayside when repairs were delayed by inclement weather and a particularly troubling piece of the trail south of Sombrio Beach.
A stair system, in the 21-kilometre section of the 47-kilometre trail, needed replacing, but no stable footing existed at the location to rebuild the stairway. Instead, a specially engineered rock-anchored boardwalk and stairs was designed and installed.
As there was no detour around that section of the trail, it was closed.
“It seems the universe just has it out for Port Renfrew,” said Jon Cash, the co-owner of Soule Creek Lodge in Port Renfrew at the time.
He said at least half of his customers come specifically to hike the trail and described the closure as “just another hit” to the tourist industry.
The ministry said in addition to the work done at Sombrio Beach, there were also improvements made to 24 other locations along the trail.
The work was the second phase of a three-phase project to upgrade the popular trail system and upgrade the infrastructure along the trail route.
The third phase of the improvement project is scheduled to begin next spring, although Environment Ministry officials would not comment on whether the third phase would necessitate any future trail closures.
Dan Hagar, the president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, views the 2019 experience as a teachable moment for everyone.
“It’s marvellous that the trail is open again, but it has shown that there has to be a direct line of communication between the ministry and the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce,” Hagar said.
“This last experience was very upsetting, but we can all learn from our mistakes. I’m hoping that going forward the communication will be much better. If we know about closures, we can talk to our members and at least keep them informed.”