Before I dive into this, I would like to enter with the disclaimer that I currently work with Parks Canada and I have worked with multiple Park Operators both on the Mainland and on the Island. Therefore, my views are informed and when I make statements about maintenance and quality, I am making them from the point of view of someone with a bit of experience in that department.
Is awful. All things considered though, it's great that these roads remain (mostly) clear and open to the public. We had to drive into six-inch deep mud to bypass a fallen tree about four kilometres from the parking lot, and there were a few crazy truck drivers who didn't even lift a finger in acknowledgement when we pulled over to let them by. We also blew two
tires catastrophically and had to limp out to Ditidaht FN, but that's a whole other story. Views along the way were gorgeous.
Pulling into a remote wilderness park, you don't expect to see a beautifully painted, classic BC Parks Sign. Part of this single-night trip was a mission to map the park in OpenStreetMap more accurately (which is now done, changes are uploaded and should appear soon). I was expecting the road to just end after the sign with room for maybe two cars and a picnic table for the "walk in" camping. Boy was I wrong. That parking lot could easily accommodate thirty cars or more, but there was something odd about it.
Maps, including those online and those on all the boards in the park, still mark a "ranger station" at the trailhead. I was curious where this was, and then I realized that this gate probably led to it. Or, rather, where it used to be. That gate can't open in either direction due to the trees growing around it. The building from the station itself isn't there (if it ever even was). I had already had my first taste of what I'm going to from this point on call "Carmanah-Walbran Neglect." The parking lot itself also showed signs of low usage: moss covered the entire place, with only the track down the middle being exposed gravel. Some of the concrete parking barriers were haphazardly strewn about. A sign near the pinned post to the trailhead clearly still bore the outlines of the words "refer to park brochure," despite BC Parks having been too cheap and uncaring to provide a brochure even online. The picnic tables at the parking lot were crooken and rotten, the firepit laying on its side when we arrived. The only thing I can say positively about the the parking area is that the outhouses were stocked with hand sanitizer (albeit in a really mold covered dispenser) and two full rolls of single-ply in each of them. Fairly impressive, though I doubt that needs to be restocked more than once a winter.
We opted to take advantage of the "short term vehicle camping" option due to heavy rains, but we still walked the length of the "campground." Again, I was hugely disappointed. I mean, for the remoteness, it's amazing. But for what they claim
it is... well, they have certainly bitten off more than they can chew. Let's compare claims versus realities:
- 12 Campsites
- 2 Bear Caches
- 2 Outhouses
- 8 Complete Campsites (only 8 of which were to BC Parks standards for front-country camping)
- 1 rusted out, crooked bear cache
- 1 outhouse, at the far end of the campground from the entrance (>5 minute walk)
I don't care that the walk in area was minimal: that's expected, and for it to exist at all is a blessing. What I cannot understand is why they cannot correct their clearly aged signage. Be honest about it. What we're left with is a 1km long overgrown campsite that takes ten minutes to walk the length of, so spread out that I recommend bringing a bicycle to make getting around the site easier (I am not joking, bring a bike). I wouldn't have so much of a problem with this if I didn't have experience working as a park operator, knowing the standards to which campgrounds can and are expected to be kept. I mean, part of our weekly routine where I worked was to wash the yellow gates
. Tent pads were raked daily to prevent moss growth. Outhouses were sprayed with disinfectant, signposts painted once a season, and the moment a picnic table started to rot, it was in with the new. Fire pits had to be dug to a specific standard. And I wasn't just working for an anal employer (though, to be honest, I was), we were supervised by a former park ranger who knew what QC was expecting. In other words, whoever is maintaining the Carmanah facilities needs to work on their image. I will continue this rant later. Here is a shot of one of the best frontcountry sites available, surrounded by towering Redcedar and with the sound of a creek roaring by. I claim it next time I come through there, it's a beautiful setting.
What a beautiful area. No, I wasn't a salty grouch the entire time I was there. I am in love with the forest in this park. It's absolutely spectacular, and to know that you are in a watershed that is virtually undisturbed today is a blessing like nothing I have experienced. It's solitude and natural beauty. We hiked, quite literally, every inch of maintained, public trail in the park, because there aren't that many inches of it.
With the closure of the spectacular Stoltman Grove in 2017 and the removal of the viewing platforms at Coast Tower and Three Sisters, there isn't too much left in terms of "feature attractions" (though I wholly support the removal of these platforms as they are harmful to ecosystems and root systems). The closure of Stoltman Grove, however, was disappointing. To think that the grove was named in honour of a man who devoted his life to conservation in the valley had simply been closed because they didn't care to maintain the trail any more is, frankly, disrespectful of his legacy. What's even worse is that they can't even claim it was for conservation reasons: Signs in the area are still standing. Today, the boardwalk ends abruptly with the sign in honour of Randy Stoltman and no context whatsoever. At least the root systems are likely fairing better, and I the area is as beautiful as ever.
The next morning, after a serious rainstorm, we turned right at the junction, heading towards Three Sisters. We came to what I assumed was what BC Parks mentions as a "temporary detour, where the boardwalk ends abruptly at the bank of the river and a fairly well established path bypasses the washout. I assumed this was the bypass because throughout the trees, you can see the broken boardwalk thrown aside and left in the undergrowth. This is all seen from a path where you are stepping through four-inch-deep mud the entire way, wishing that there was a boardwalk. Oh, and that wasn't
the temporary bypass. That is a very permanent replacement of trail from a previous washout. This is the point when I created the phrase "if it's broken, don't fix it." They needed a boardwalk there, and if the park operator had their act together, they would have at least moved the old boardwalk (which upon inspection was perfectly sound) into position.
After this permanent detour, we came upon the newer, "temporary" detour that I suspect will eventually become a permanent detour. This involved fording a twenty-inch deep creek that was about twelve feet across, then fording another smaller creek that was about eight inches deep about about eight feet across. This was all with the flagging limited to the most obvious, most straightforward portion of the detour, leaving hikers to guess at their route throughout the rest of it. Luckily the ferns have been trampled enough to find your way. After that point, the boardwalks are in utterly atrocious condition.
There were many places where there was a trail beside the boardwalk, and it was much safer to stay off the boardwalks for two reasons: falling through and falling off. Cedar gets real slippery when it's on a slope and there is nothing added for grip, and myself and my girlfriend fell more times than I can remember while walking on these surfaces. We aren't really novices when it comes to footing - we've scrambled some pretty serious slopes together - but this was dangerous to the point where we left the boardwalk and took the mud instead. Once again, it is clear that the park operator is not doing their duty in maintaining these trails, and again, I can say that they are not being maintained to any kind of reasonable standard.
Get your act together, BC Parks - just because they bid low doesn't mean they are going to do a good job (actually, it usually means they aren't
). Boardwalks are extremely dangerous at this point, so if you're headed up that way during the rainy season, stay off the boardwalks when they are sloped at all. I can't imagine falling with a heavy pack would be enjoyable, and I'm talking ice-rink levels of slipperiness. The forests, however, are spectacular. It's a stark contrast to the shaved hills surrounding the park. You feel as though you've stepped back in time, into another world. I've been to (and trained in) Pacific Rim, and this place makes the Long Beach unit feel like a regional park. The mere scale of the place is beautiful, and the fact that the entire watershed is pristine makes you feel peaceful while watching the river. I will probably make an attempt for Paradise Pool this summer, but until then, stay beautiful Carmanah Walbran, even if your caretakers clearly don't give two hoots.