The Ancient Forest Alliance submitted a request to B.C.’s Ministry of Forests to build an official trail and boardwalk in the recently protected Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew on May 7.
TJ Watt, co-founder of the Ancient Forest Alliance, said the boardwalk will protect the ecological integrity of the grove, provide visitor safety and enable people from all walks of life to enjoy the old-growth forest.
“It makes the Grove more accessible to people of all ages, anyone from children to seniors should be able to come and experience the spectacular old-growth forests there,” he said, adding the construction of steps will help people navigate through the steeper slopes in the ancient forest.
In terms of ecological protection, the boardwalk will keep people off the ground, and off the roots of trees. It will also prevent tourists from stepping through wet areas which have a risk of becoming mud pits.
There is currently an unofficial, beaten trail created from the thousands of tourists who have trekked through the area in the last couple of years.
The environmental group is requesting to build an official boardwalk and steps in wet areas, steep areas and at the base of popular trees. The boardwalk and trail is estimated to stretch for approximately one kilometre between the upper and lower Avatar Groves.
In addition to a boardwalk, signage will also be erected to remind people to stay on official trails and pack out any garbage.
The boardwalk will be engineered by experts to ensure it meets the safety standards of other popular ancient forest boardwalks on Crown land. The project is currently estimated to cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
According to Watt, Avatar Grove is one of the few remaining forests of its kind.
“The Avatar is a very unique area in one sense in that it’s very rare, low elevation valley bottom old growth forest,” Watt said. “On southern Vancouver Island we only have four per cent of valley bottom old growth forest left.” The rare ancient forest has attracted thousands of tourists to Port Renfrew since it’s introduction to the public two years ago.
“Since Avatar Grove was appropriately named and brought to our attention in the last couple of years, we’ve seen numbers climb, groups of tours going out in number of anywhere from 30-80 people at a time on any given day,” said Rose Betsworth, president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce.
Betsworth also stated that Avatar Grove is recognized as a precious resource for the Port Renfrew community.
“Forestry sees the value of the old trees when they’re harvested, we — in the tourism industry — see the financial benefits the living forests bring to our community.”
“We’re certainly the recipient of the tourist dollars right now because of Avatar, so it’s up to us to protect that asset,” she said, adding the boardwalk will prevent any further wear and tear to the ancient forest.
“The path is getting pretty beaten down, and subsidiary trails are being found, so ideally it’d be nice to have a boardwalk constructed to mitigate any further wear on the existing trail. And that way it allows us to have only one trail instead of having people trampling all through the entire forest.”
The Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce submitted a letter to the ministry in support of the project.
Avatar Grove, which Watt discovered in 2009, was protected in February in a 59 hectare Old-Growth Management Area after two years of campaigning by the Ancient Forest Alliance and Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce.
The project will be funded by donations, which can be made at www.ancientforestalliance.org. For $100 a one metre section of the boardwalk can be constructed.