JDF Trail helped preserve forest

The making of a public park

When the forest and fishing  industries in the Sooke region collapsed back in the early 1990s, it meant the loss of jobs, opportunities and a strong economic future.“We have basically been left with nothing other than what we will be able to log in another 30 years,” said Al Jones back in 1991.Tourism became the driver for economic development and Al Jones was the man with the foresight to make things happen. Jones was at the forefront of an idea — an idea to create a 47-kilometre walking trail from China Beach to Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew. As a solid NDP supporter Jones approached Moe Sihota with his idea. They met Normy Smith in Port Renfrew who said the “property at the end of the road would make a great park.”The land in question was owned by a U.S. university and was being logged. They talked of a timber swap and started talking to the provincial government about the possibility of creating a marine trail.Jones said that the West Coast Trail was well used and reservations were required and he didn’t feel that was quite right and another easier-going trail could provide free access to most everyone. The land along the trail belonged to Western Forest Products and TimberWest and negotiations would be required.MLA Rick Kasper was all for the idea and lobbied hard to make the community’s views known.Jones met with some resistance, he was told “it’ll never wash” but perseverance and tenacity finally won. “I got hold of Phoebe Dunbar, Maywell Wickheim, and Jack Chester from Port Renfrew and we had a meeting. They were all for it. Later Maywell walked the entire trail – it was a nightmare,” said Jones.The proposal was later endorsed by the Sooke Economic Development Commission, Edward Milne Community School, the Sooke-Jordan River Chamber of Commerce, Pearson College, the University of Victoria and other greater Victoria area residents and community groups.Along with the hiking trail Jones envisioned a research station but that went to Bamfield instead. “Moe said it had to have an economic footprint as they were cutting back on money for parks,” said Jones. The money to create the trail came from the Commonwealth Nature Legacy, an enduring reminder of the 1994 Commonwealth Games. Land exchanges and gifts of land came from Western Forest Products and TimberWest. The trail took three years to build and employed youth between the ages of 16-24.“These kids were just learning to work,” he said. “They were just out of school and they never had a shovel in their hands. That was great movement.”The young workers had to deal with flies, bears and needed lookouts while they worked in the remote area.The trail opened in 1996 and Jones said it was one of “the proud moments in my life. I just want to put the record straight about how it started.”He said the Juan de Fuca Marine trail has become an economic driver. He had the opportunity to put people to work and said he wants to keep doing that.“I’m not looking for a slap on the back, I just love doing it.”As to the newest development proposal being put forth by Ender Ilkay, Jones said Ilkay is doing an excellent job (with his developments). If Ilkay hires as many locals as possible, that will provide some kind of economic interest, said Jones.The lands on which Ilkay is planning his resort development could have been bought for 25 cents on the dollar from Dolman back in the day. And now, said Jones, if sold as separate lots a purchaser could easily get their money back from the timber.“The environmental groups had the opportunity to buy it,” he said. “The best scenario for the trail is taking care of the property (through private enterprise), and putting people to work.“I want to see some people working in this community. There’s lots of opportunity out here.”Jones also envisions something happening at Jordan River, like a  RV park where tourists can park and enjoy the outdoors. He holds Metchosin up as a possible model.“You gotta have a place for people to be comfortable.”