Drive-thru visitor centres could be coming to the Pacific Rim Highway between Tofino and Ucluelet.
The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is looking into installing highway visitor kiosks at its northern and southern boundaries along the highway and has budgeted $78,341 for an independent feasibility study that’s currently underway.
“While visitor information is available at other locations, entry kiosks would provide Parks Canada team members the opportunity to directly engage with many more visitors and provide important information on the national park reserve. This includes current information on coexisting with wildlife, coastal safety, visitor experiences, special events, and more,” Park Reserve superintendent Karen Haugen told the Westerly News via email.
“Further, national park entry passes would also be available at the kiosks, but it is more than that. It is about welcoming and engaging the visitor and providing important information on the national park reserve, including that national park entry fees are reinvested to support visitor programs, services, and facilities.”
Haugen said that study is still in its early stages and is “exploratory in nature,” meaning no decisions have been made and added that the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Ucluelet First Nation would be consulted, as well as the communities of Tofino and Ucluelet, before any shovels hit the ground.
“It will develop two conceptual designs for national park entry kiosks after exploring options that best meet these objectives, while taking into consideration a number of related factors, including highway traffic flow, volumes and capacity requirements, and environmental and cultural factors,” she wrote, adding that potentially widening the highway to make room for the kiosks is on the table.
“This feasibility study will consider mandatory bypass lanes to avoid traffic slowdowns for community members, or regional visitors who are passing through or who already have valid national park entry passes. As part of this feasibility study, through lanes will be included in all the national park entry kiosk options for consideration. These options will recommend if the roadway will need to be widened.”
She said Parks Canada’s sites are “cornerstones of Canada’s tourism industry” and the park reserve is committed to offering meaningful, high quality experiences to visitors.
“Pacific Rim National Park Reserve welcomes over a million visitors each year, primarily to the Long Beach Unit,” she wrote. “With the many other attractions and visitor experiences in the national park reserve, only a small percentage of visitors have face-to-face encounters with a Parks Canada team member to get information and learn about this unique place during their visit.”
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly she is “very open” to the idea of new kiosks serving as a gateway to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, “provided that the consultation is done with the communities and First Nations to understand exactly what it’s role will be and how it will interact with visitors.”
She said a key concern for residents will be whether commuters can pass through the area without stopping.
“In the past, maybe Tofitians have been a bit hesitant about this idea, but now we understand how valuable that welcome and entrance into a protected area is and that sense of arriving somewhere where we expect certain kinds of behaviour,” she said. “This is an opportunity for parks staff to be able to interact with visitors and help set the expectation and the tone.”
She added that the potential kiosks would be “complementary” to the West Coast’s current visitor centres.
“There’s still a need for a visitor centre where people can park, get out, interact with staff, look at maps, look at screens, ask questions, use washrooms and all of that…This is quite different. This is an opportunity for that initial engagement,” she said, adding that the kiosks would also help Parks Canada ensure user fees are being collected.
Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel expressed similar optimism about the kiosks and added their arrival on the Pacific Rim Highway has long been “a matter of when.”
“I think it’s a wonderful initiative,” he said. “I believe that one of the things that Karen [Haugen] is really trying to do is get this park to work at the same standard of all the federal parks across Canada and one of the things it’s missing is that real statement of, ‘You’re driving into a National Park.’”
He added that the new kiosks would provide another avenue for the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to educate visitors about the traditional territories of the Ucluelet First Nation and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.
“This is just another step towards reconciliation,” he said. “It’s a positive step.”