Proposed Vancouver Island Spine Trail: backbone of eco-tourism?

Imagine the experience of hiking or biking through the wilderness of Vancouver Island from Victoria all the way to the northern tip on one continuous trail. The proponents of the proposed 700-kilometre Vancouver Island Spine Trail are hoping to provide just that.

Starting in Victoria as the Galloping Goose Trail, the Spine Trail would join other pre-existing trails before reaching the Island’s northernmost point in Cape Scott Provincial Park. But there’s still a long road ahead in realizing this dream.  

Andrew Pape-Salmon, president of the Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association (VISTA), is working to make the Spine Trail a reality. One of VISTA’s most recent efforts is raising awareness for a 30-kilometre connector trail, planned for 2016, that would start at the Galloping Goose Trail in Langford, run through the Sooke Hills Wilderness Regional Park Reserve and private lands, and join the Trans-Canada Trail at Shawnigan Lake. According to Pape-Salmon, there would be very little clearing required, as the planned trail follows a natural-gas pipeline route, and the scenery along the trail would be unforgettable.

“From Langford up to the Malahat mountain range, the main geographic quality would be old-growth trees,” says Pape-Salmon. “It’s heavily forested; there’s maybe one or two views of Mount Finlayson, but it’s pretty much just heavily forested land. Once you get up the mountain plateau, you’ve got phenomenal views of the Saanich Peninsula.”

Pape-Salmon explains the trail would mainly be for hikers, runners and mountain bikers, while other activities like horseback riding would be limited to certain sections of the trail. There would also be small sections of single-track trail, which wouldn’t be wide enough for two directions of foot or bike traffic. 

About one third of the proposed Spine Trail is already more or less complete, while the remaining two thirds still need to be developed. In addition to the connector trail in the Malahat region, VISTA has proposed another 30-kilometre trail west of Lake Cowichan that will require some brush clearing and signage and will again provide more of a single-track, rugged trail experience. 

Pape-Salmon also wants to establish connecting trails from Shawnigan Lake to Port Alberni, including those proposed 30 kilometres of trail that would connect Lake Cowichan to Alberni Inlet. 

“That would get us closer to the goal of having a continuous trail from Victoria to Port Alberni; I would say we’re really close to being able to achieve that,” says Pape-Salmon. 

Part of making the connector trail a reality is negotiating with private landowners to allow a right-of-way for certain sections. Pape-Salmon says there’s currently a big gap in the proposed trail at Lake Cowichan, where it would pass over privately owned land. VISTA will be communicating with the landowner to get permission for the trail to cross the property.

Once the trail hits Port Alberni, a lot of work will still be required for it to cross the Beaufort mountain range and connect with Cumberland. VISTA’s goal is to run the trail along a ridgeline owned by a logging company, which is another private landowner they will need to negotiate with. If all goes to plan, when the trail arrives in Cumberland, it will descend into the town before going straight back up the hills into Strathcona Provincial Park. 

Pape-Salmon points out that the planned trail will provide a lot of variety for a wide range of pleasure-seekers.

He says, “I think this is a trail for everybody, because [all people] who want to go on a bit of a vision quest or a pilgrimage could start in Victoria and hike for six weeks without stopping . . . I would say it’s comparable to what we’ve seen with the Camino trails in Spain, and that’s why I use the term ‘pilgrimage’ — because there are a lot of people who would see that as a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and the Vancouver Island Spine Trail could offer that.”

Pape-Salmon says there are no current trails that would form the Spine Trail north of Campbell River, but puts that on the back burner for now. 

“Right now, we’re trying to focus on the South Island where the population centres are so that we can provide some benefit to the community in the short term by connecting Port Alberni with Victoria through trails. And then — once we’ve kind of had a track record in negotiating with landowners and building trails — then we’ll focus our attention on the North Island,” he says.

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