Wickaninnish Sand Dunes reopened

“We’re delighted to let the public back in there,” Pacific Rim National 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 it’s 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 combed 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.

Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Alberni Dr. James Lunney has participated in the Park’s restoration efforts and is excited to see these efforts build. 
“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.” 
Morgan reminds visitors to practice caution in the area and immediately report any unusual findings to the Park 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.”

Canada’s Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada Leona Aglukkaq was stoked to welcome visitors back to the dunes.

“These hills are a very special part of the park, where visitors can climb sandy hills and discover wolf tracks,” she said. “They are also home to at-risk plant species that thrive in the dune environment; one of the rarest ecosystems in Canada.”

reporter@westerlynews.ca