Ahousaht crews are working hard to replace the two-kilometre stretch of cedar boardwalk trail that leads to geothermal hot springs in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park.
BC Parks contracted the $891,147.25 capital project to 43K Wilderness Solutions, who in turn partnered with Maaqutussi Hahoulthee Stewardship Society (MHSS) to build the new wooden path. MHSS general manager John Caton says the boardwalk project is slated to be complete by mid-May 2021.
“MHSS is responsible for building materials, transportation and labour. It’s a big boost for the community. We have two crews of four up there working eight days on and six days off,” said Caton, adding that MHSS acquired beautiful western red cedar from Trans Pacific Trading Ltd. in Port Alberni for the project.
Maquinna, located a 1.5 hour boat ride northwest of Tofino, has been closed since March 2020 due to COVID-19.
B.C. Parks spokesperson David Karn was unsure when the park and natural hot springs would re-open.
“Due to the small size of the springs, maintaining the appropriate six feet of physical distance between visitors is not possible. We continue to monitor the situation related to the pandemic, and orders set by the Provincial Health Officer, to ensure our compliance. BC Parks’ primary focus is visitor and employee health and safety and will re-open when it is safe, and appropriate, to do so,” Karn said in an email.
Caton told the Westerly the hot springs visitor experience needs to be improved.
“The boat ride up is incredible. What these people are seeing in Ahousaht territory after leaving Tofino is phenomenal. The walk down the two-kilometre boardwalk to the springs itself is by far one of the most incredible experiences. And then it all falls apart when they get to the destination. There are way too many people wanting to get into those little pools. If you have twelve people in a water taxi and there are six boats at the dock and there are sixty to eighty people at the springs at any given time, there is confrontation. It’s just a bad experience,” he said.
MHSS is currently in discussion with BC Parks, Tourism Tofino and local tour operators to find solutions.
“I’ve seen days where there are 100 people sitting on the rocks wanting to get into the springs. It’s not about increasing the price to make it better, it’s about controlling the numbers and making that experience a lot better,” said Caton.
In 1964, a tsunami forced members of Hesquiaht First Nation to relocated to Hot Springs Cove. As far as Ahousaht is concerned, notes Caton, the Hesquiaht at Maquinna are on the territory by invitation.
Caton went on to say that Ahousaht is working with B.C. and Canada on a reconciliation package.
“The government can’t do anything until the nations figure out their own boundaries, so that’s one of things that’s going on right now with both Hesquiaht, Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht,” said Caton.
Those boundary issues are being dealt with and I’m sure that everybody is going to be happy with the outcome of what that looks like.”
For more than 30 years, Hot Springs Cove guests could pay the park operator to carve and install personalized boardwalk planks. Karn said BC Parks will not be continuing this tradition due to safety concerns.
“Several replacement planks were improperly installed creating a safety hazard for visitors. Any carved boardwalk planks installed by visitors on the newly replaced boardwalk facility will be removed and replaced to preserve public safety. Some of the original carved boardwalk planks found to be in good condition have been saved during the demolition and will be used in a special feature close to the hot springs,” said Karn.