Tofino’s Multi-Use Path has taken a $1 million step towards the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s boundary.
The district’s currently 6.5-kilometre MUP ends at the Cox Bay visitor centre, roughly 2.5 kilometres away from the Park.
High beams shone over that gap when the Park announced an $18 million trail project last year, prompting Tofino’s staffers to scramble for funding to extend the MUP and prevent the Park’s future trail users from getting stranded on the windy stretch of Pacific Rim Highway, that has no sidewalk and narrow shoulders, between the Park and Tofino.
B.C.’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone announced a $1 million commitment to extending Tofino’s MUP on March 14.
The funding stems from the province’s BikeBC program, which is expected to make roughly $9.25 million rain on various cycling infrastructure projects throughout B.C. this year.
“Tofino is known for its world-class tourism attractions and experiences enjoyed by residents and tourists alike,” Stone said in his announcement.
“Pacific Rim National Park is the jewel in Tofino’s crown, so extending the multi-use path in the park will provide more opportunities to explore this beautiful part of B.C. and provide the community with the economic benefits from increased tourism activities in the region.”
Tofino’s Mayor Josie Osborne was elated by the news.
“I was very hopeful that our application would be a perfect fit for the Bike BC program, so I was thrilled to get a call from the Minister’s office confirming the investment into Tofino’s MUP Extension,” she said adding locals should be as excited about the project as tourists.
“I do think a lot of the local excitement is about Tofitians and Tla-o-qui-aht members being able to ride between Tofino, Ty-histanis, Esowista and Long Beach and as far as Ucluelet, as well as a sense of relief knowing that visitors and locals alike will not need to cycle on that narrow section of highway with the curves and dips. The tourism opportunity is wonderful as well.”
She touted the federal government’s 2016 Pacific Traverse Trail announcement as “an incredible opportunity,” but said it came quicker than Tofino and Ucluelet’s local governments expected and both communities quickly became committed to connecting to the Park.
“Although we’ve been dreaming of a safe bicycling and walking path between Tofino and Ucluelet for years, it didn’t seem like it would become a reality for some time yet,” she said.
“The approximately 22 km PTT will attract cyclists who will stay overnight mostly in Tofino and Ucluelet, so completing the trail on each end outside the northern and southern boundaries of the National Park to meet each town’s existing bike paths suddenly became very important.”
The province’s $1 million gift still leaves Tofino short of the $3.5 million it expects the 2.5 kilometre MUP extension to cost and Tofino’s Manager of Community Sustainability Aaron Rodgers told the Westerly the district is still searching for more.
“It’s $1 million more than we had,” he said. “We’re going to be working with regional partners and possibly some other granters to close the gap, but this is definitely the start of that.”
Rodgers said the funding was much appreciated and added the BikeBC program has been a vital source of MUP funding in the past.
“It helps build out the possibilities that more people can get on bikes and out of cars,” he said.
“Overall, if you can do it, it’s a healthy option. It reduces green house gas emissions if you can make the switch from car to bike once in a while and, in a parking sustainability sense, the more people we can get on bikes, when they can, the less issues we have with things like parking in the downtown core.”
Pacific Rim National Park Superintendent Karen Haugen told the Westerly News that she’s delighted to see Tofino inching towards a connection to the Park.
“I’m very very excited to hear that news,” she said. “My hat is off to Mayor Josie Osborne and her team for their successful application and we look forward to working with them as they connect to our trail.”
Tofino’s Manager of Resort Municipality Initiative Services April Froment explained the district has mapped out a two-phased approach to the MUP extension with the first phase being a gravel path and the second being asphalt.
In an email to the Westerly News, Froment wrote that the province’s $1 million will go towards the first phase. While that first phase is dependent on additional funding coming in, BikeBC wants to see its grant being spent within a year so the clock is ticking on finding more funds.
“We are optimistic that we will find the balance of the funding required to see the project completed,” Froment wrote.
“Tofino expects to use both Resort Municipality Initiative Funding and Federal Gas Tax Agreement Funding on this project. The RMI program is not confirmed beyond March 2018. It is hoped that the program will continue and a portion of that funding would be used toward this project.”
Construction on the Park’s $18 million Pacific Traverse Trail officially kicked off last month and was visibly noticeable to highway traffic on March 11 as locals and tourists saw a large number of trees being removed near Esowista.
The Park’s superintendent Karen Haugen told the Westerly News the clearing was necessary to make room for a road adjustment that will increase safety for future trail users.
“We’ve cleared a section there to allow us to move the road and safely put the trail in so we’re adding that public safety to visitors as they’re going through that corner,” Haugen said.
“While Parks Canada has been providing updates on the multi-use trail, we recognize it would have been helpful to let people know in advance about the work at Esowista corner specifically, so we are committed to communicating more clearly next time.”
She encourages locals to follow the Park Reserve’s Twitter and Facebook feeds for updates and suggested public information sessions are being scheduled.
“Those dates will be announced shortly,” she said. “We want to make sure we communicate to the public.”
She noted the West Coast’s shorebird season has begun and no more trees will be chopped down until mid-August as migratory birds make their way through.
“We can work on the areas that we’ve already cleared, but we will not be taking down any trees to respect the migratory birds,” she said. “We’re going to be looking at brushing, grubbing, clearing the trees that are down, and just getting it ready.”
The asphalt trail will be roughly three metres wide and run roughly 25 kilometres between the Park’s north and south boundaries.
“The finished product is going to connect our communities together,” Haugen said. “We can all be working towards one vision for the whole regional area.”