Once the phrase “Avatar Grove” was coined, the flood gates opened out at Port Renfrew.
Avatar Grove refers to the stand of old growth forest just outside Port Renfrew and features the “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree,” a giant red cedar with a 12-foot wide contorted burl located just five minutes past the end of the paved road.
Perhaps it was because of the popular movie, perhaps it was the incredible tree itself but, in any case, efforts by the Ancient Forest Alliance are paying off and the trees in the grove are one step closer to being protected.
At a fundraiser on March 17 at the Sooke Harbour House, local area business people and interested conservationists came together to raise funds for an information centre in Port Renfrew.
“The Ancient Forest Alliance became an integral part of our community and the chamber of commerce and our campaign to protect these forests,” said Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce president Rosie Betsworth.
Ken Wu, of the Ancient Forest Alliance, spoke of small towns in Canada trying to attract tourists with the “biggest something.” He said Port Renfrew is a small village with a population of 200 and it has the biggest trees in Canada.
“It’s the real deal, the biggest fir tree on the planet and the gnarliest tree in the country in the Avatar Grove. It is a rallying point for people who want to save the old growth forest,” said Wu.
He said Avatar Grove is still unprotected although the logging company has stated it is not interested in logging in the grove.
“It is a magnificent forest for future generations. The increasing number of people will ramp up the total visitor-ship of the entire region,” said Wu.
Jon Cash was pointed out as the first person to push for increased protection of old growth in Port Renfrew. He said that with an adult population of 75 voters politicians aren’t there for you.
“The Ancient Forest Alliance has given us a voice and the chamber of commerce a voice… it is rebranding the whole town,” said Cash. “We are hugely affected by this campaign.”
He said people came to the area expected to see big trees and this “special place” needs to be treated as such.
Photographer TJ Watt said he has seen a shift in people’s willingness to protect those ancient trees.
“It was not by ranting and raving to save the trees,” he said.
The Ancient Forest Alliance is working to get the government to establish an old-growth management area where trees will be valued and protected.
“If we don’t succeed it will be the ‘Biggest Stump Capital of BC’,” said Watt.
By May 1, the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce wants to have its information centre up and running.
Adrianne Carr of the Green Party led the pledge auction which raised $6,100 in cash and in-kind services for the chamber of commerce.