While winter’s dark clouds lull locals into the West Coast’s traditionally quiet offseason, Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail is still bustling with tourists.
The trail topped Trip Advisor’s list of Vancouver Island attractions this year and was infused with new viewpoints and educational features thanks to the Wild Pacific Trail Society.
Trail manager ‘Oyster’ Jim Martin said the trail has brought “huge economic benefit” to Ucluelet’s economy since its inception in 1998, especially during the slow winter months.
“The other day when it was stormy, the trail was packed with people taking pictures so hang onto your hats because it’s going to be busy now,” he said.
“There are people who are waiting to come here from the other side of the Island, or other places, and when there’s a storm they’re going to travel here to witness the spectacle on the ocean.”
He said 2015 was a “great year” for the society as significant upgrades were made to the trail thanks to district support and local donations.
“We completed nine new viewing points and a viewing deck on the Lighthouse Loop and that was especially significant because that was made possible through the society by several local donors.”
He said the society received an anonymous $20,000 donation along with support from locals and businesses like Allison Tremain, Ukee Cable and the Raven Lady Oyster Forte.
“They all have programs that automatically send funds to the Wild Pacific Trail Society and those funds were used to help upgrade the Lighthouse Loop to its current standing,” he said.
Raven Lady owner Bruce Schmaltz said he supports the trail because it is a perennial tourist draw that keeps local businesses humming.
“I look at the trail as a real game changer for the town of Ucluelet… It’s been done in such a way that the average person can do the hikes and see the beauty of the West Coast,” he said.
“It’s something that just keeps on giving. It’s going to go on for years and years to come and it’s made Ucluelet a destination. Supporting the trail supports the town and supports the community.”
Along with the Lighthouse Loop upgrades, the society also celebrated the completion of the trail’s Artists Loops section, which was moved “as far out on the coast as we possibly can get it,” according to Martin.
He said the section—located on Weyerhaeuser-owned land between Ucluelet-proper and the Wyndansea development—was built in 2002 with an understanding that it would eventually be moved closer to the shoreline.
“We finished up the rest of the Artists Loops and effectively moved the trail to its final position on the Coast; that includes three viewing decks that are quite outstanding,” he said.
He noted that under the trail’s master development agreement, nothing can be built between the trail and the ocean.
“The landowners are giving up that portion of not only the land underneath the trail but also in front of the trail so it’s incumbent on the trail not to take anymore than absolutely necessary of the private land owner’s land,” he said.
“By moving the trail out we returned huge amounts of real estate back to the private landowners.”
He said the society plans to invest about $20,000 into the trail in 2016.
“The trail is unique in the world,’ he said. “It’s a total experience for the travelers who come here and the locals who use it. It provides them with unique outstanding vistas at every turn and places to sit and rest and have a private experience.”
He suggested the trail’s construction will eventually be complete but its features will continue to evolve.
“It will just change focus,” he said.
“It’s already beginning a switch to educational and interpretation programs and guided tours…That is coming on and that will be more prominent as construction declines.”
He believes adding to the trail’s educational value is a key way to add to its appeal.
“That’s what the tourists want…They thrive on that, they eat that stuff up, they have questions all the time and people are there to answer their questions,” he said.
“Every subject associated with the ocean and wildlife and the whole environment here is interesting to these people because very few places have this type of environment.”