Cleared of explosive risk, dunes reopen

The Wickaninnish Sand Dunes have officially been reopened.

“We’re delighted to let the public back in there,” Park superintendent Jim Morgan told the Westerly News. “We know how important the dunes are to people and we know lots of people love going in there.”

The dunes were closed to the public two years ago when a Park volunteer discovered an unexploded explosive ordnance (UXO) in February 2012.

The UXO was believed to be a remnant of the Canadian Armed Forces training exercises that occurred in the area during World War II, prior to the Pacific Rim National Park being established.

When the UXO was found, the area was closed and the department of national defence (DND) kicked off an extensive investigation to locate any other explosive relics.

“They’ve done their work they did a very thorough job; it was great working with them,” Morgan said of the DND.

The DND determined the chances of discovering other historic munitions in the dunes are low and gave the lowest possible risk rating, according to Morgan. “Obviously because the site is a former military practice area its impossible for DND or for anyone to say with absolute certainty that it’s completely safe; that’s impossible and that will always be impossible but this is about as good as it gets,” he said.

The DND surveyed about 95 per cent of the dunes with geophysical equipment hunting for other UXO.

“The only areas they couldn’t get to are the really, really, steep areas,” Morgan said.

He said the DND’s equipment can sense metal with high accuracy to at least 0.8 metres.

“We know that down to 0.8 metres all pieces of metal have been detected and every one was dug up nothing was left for guesswork everything was dug up and examined and exposed and we didn’t find any more high explosive mortars or any hand grenades or anything like that,” he said. “That gives us a high degree of confidence that people can go in there and use the dunes safely.”

He added that opening the dunes would allow Park staff to get deeper into their restoration work. “Our staff also will now be back in there working so it’s a good news day for everybody,” he said.

The Park’s dune restoration project manager Mike Collyer is stoked to bring restoration efforts back to the reopened area.

“The opening of the dunes allows us to go in and do more work in the dunes and to continue our restoration work and our habitat monitoring and enhancement in that area,” he said.

He expects Park staff and volunteers back in full force this summer with a keen eye focused on planting pink sand-verbena; a rare plant species thought to be extricated from Canada until rediscovered in 2001.

“One of the keys goals of the restoration work is to provide habitats for rare plants and species that inhabit those areas and those areas were being lost primarily to the invasive grass,” Collyer said.

The Park has not yet released a schedule of volunteer opportunities but Collyer suggested one could be out by mid-May.

He said Park visitors will soon be able to download an app onto their smart phones that will provide self-interpretive tours through the dunes and he added this app will be the first of several the Park plans to launch.

Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Alberni Dr. James Lunney has participated in the Park’s dune restoration efforts and is excited to see these efforts regain momentum.

“Observing Parks Canada’s management of the restoration phase of the dunes project left a strong impression. I was pleased to join a team of volunteers working under Parks Canada supervision removing invasive grasses prior to the closure,” he said. “It was great to give the public a role in the stewardship of this unique ecological feature of the park. I am delighted to see this area open again to visitors and volunteers, so this important work can continue.”

Superintendent Morgan reminds visitors to practice caution in the area and immediately report any unusual findings to Park staff at 250-726-7165.

“In this case it’s really simple, in the very unlikely event that somebody finds something that they don’t recognize-a piece of metal or anything like that-don’t touch it, leave it right where it is, leave the area and give us a call,” he said.

He said any reports would be investigated and forwarded to the DND.

“Very, very, quickly we’ll make an assessment as to whether or not there’s further examination required,” he said. “All that’s very unlikely but we just want people to know that there is something they can do if they see anything at all that they don’t recognize.”

reporter@westerlynews.ca