Timmy Masso’s West Main Forest Service Road blockade achieved one of his key goals, it got people talking.
“It got people to realize what’s actually happening out there. I think a lot of people had turned that blind eye and thought, ‘It’s not my problem, it’s someone else’s’,” the 18-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member told the Westerly News on Sunday. “Shutting it down gave that system a shock and got everyone to realize that we all have to stand up and we all have to try to do it together.”
Masso set up the blockade on Aug 10 and, surrounded by supporters, turned around tourists heading into the Kennedy Lake backroads, within the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s territory.
The blockade shone a spotlight on the environmental destruction irresponsible campers were causing and the First Nation has since announced the area has been closed to overnight camping
The First Nation also hosted a meeting of leaders from the West Coast’s eight communities last week to discuss gating West Main and work on solutions to address the unauthorized camping in the Kennedy Lake area and beyond.
“I am really glad that there was a meeting and that they’re trying to move towards a proper solution. When we’re trying to find change and trying to find that solution, the first step is talking,” Masso told the Westerly News on Sunday, adding he hopes the meetings lead to action. “The reason I wanted to shut it down was because I did not want to see my Nation’s territory get turned into a place where no one would care. There’s so many spiritual places out there that we have to look after…I really hope that looking after them will save it for the future generations to come.”
Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noel attended the meeting and said the group is committed to finding solutions together and is working on clear messaging to let travellers know the area is not a welcoming pad for careless vacations.
“As a group on the West Coast, we’re standing united that we need to make very clear messaging that those people coming here need to have reservations and appropriate camping spots,” Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel told the Westerly News. “It’s not appreciated to squat and perhaps go surfing the next day.”
He added the group is also working to combat smartphone apps that are currently promoting the area as a free campsite.
Noel acknowledged concerns have been raised about displacing residents who have been pushed into the area by the West Coast’s housing crisis and have nowhere else to live, but said those residents are far outnumbered by tourists.
“We’ve identified five to six people that are actually out there that have jobs in the community that are struggling to find a place to park their trailers. We are trying to find alternate options for them to relocate. The group is talking about what we can do to help those people that are falling through the cracks,” he said. “But, when one says that the people are out there working, it’s not the case. Predominantly, these people have surfboards on their car and they’re coming here by choice with expectations they’re going to find a piece of gravel to throw their tent on and go surfing the next day.”
He noted the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District announced plans to tackle the problem in January, but those efforts have yet to produce tangible results.
“The ACRD was supposed to come up with some solutions, they failed to do so. So, our eight West Coast communities are working on a strategy to deal with this locally and we hope that we can get the ACRD’s support on the matter,” he said.
Tofino mayor Dan Law is part of the ACRD’s ‘unauthorized camping working group’ and said the group had been meeting for about six months looking at ways to increase enforcement and cooperation.
“Obviously there’s an acute issue back there that must be addressed,” he said. “It is a complex situation and there are many views and opinions, but in the end everybody in the region is in full agreement that the situation in the backroads, with unauthorized camping, illegal activity, destruction of the environment, human waste, garbage being left everywhere, all of that has to be addressed.”
Law also attended last week’s regional meeting and said he hopes to see enforcement prioritized over closures.
“I’m a very vocal proponent for free access to public lands and I personally would like to see increased enforcement, cooperation and attention to the backroads. I would hope that various government agencies, municipalities and the regional district can find some finances to fund increased and adequate enforcement so that responsible, respectful, citizens can continue to enjoy the backcountry and can continue to learn to love the land,” he said.
Noel suggested solutions identified and hammered out by regional leaders working together will be more effective than ideas coming from elsewhere.
“It means more because it’s organically grown, as opposed to being force-fed from the other side of the valley,” he said. “Solutions that we’re coming up with we know are going to work because we live on this side of the mountain range. Sometimes the solutions that people are trying to find for us may not live on the West Coast.”
He suggested the regional leaders will meet “probably every week for the foreseeable future.”
“We have to come up with solutions on the West Coast,” he said. “We can’t wait for the province or others to come up with solutions. We’ve got to come up with solutions that are, quite frankly, quicker and more appropriate for what we’re trying to get done.”
Masso said he was inspired by the support he received from residents from across the Coast during the blockade.
“It was just so wonderful that we have people in this world that do want to show their full support and want to come out there and make that change,” he said. “Seeing the support of Ucluelet and Tofino and seeing support from people you barely know that came out there and said, ‘We are behind you,’ that makes my heart glow.”
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