A view of the West Coast Trail near Nitinat Lake. (David Enstrom/Wikipedia Commons)

A view of the West Coast Trail near Nitinat Lake. (David Enstrom/Wikipedia Commons)

West Coast Trail to remain closed for now

Federal government won’t open world-famous trek until its First Nations are ready for visitors

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve will gradually open its gates to visitors starting June 4, along with a selection of other national parks.

But, for now at least, Vancouver Island’s world-famous West Coast Trail will remain closed.

Parks Canada said the trail will not be reopened without unanimous agreement from the three First Nations along it: the Bamfield-area Huu-ay-aht, the Ditidaht, who are based around Nitinat Lake, and the Port Renfrew-area Pacheedaht.

Robert Dennis, chief councillor of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation does not want the trail to reopen just yet.

“First of all, we want to be sure the virus is gone. Numbers are looking good in B.C., and that’s very encouraging to see. But with that, the health experts are all expecting a resurgence, and we don’t know when that will come, so that gives me a lot of concern,” he said. “We continue to maintain that our health and safety is or number one priority and economy is behind that.”

Health authorities have identified Indigenous communities as vulnerable in the coronavirus pandemic, and Dennis wants to see that taken in to account with any decisions to re-open.

“We have a lot of elders, and quite a few people in lower-income brackets living in crowded housing.”

RELATED: Twenty-nine of Canada’s 48 national parks to reopen to day-use visitors June 1

RELATED: Port Renfrew reopening June 1

Memory of smallpox and tuberculosis weigh heavily in Dennis’ mind. His mother died from tuberculosis, and he was hospitalized from it.

“My grandfather told me massive graves were common when he was a child, when smallpox was killing so many people they couldn’t keep up. When I see what’s happening in New York, that really resonates with me because that’s what my grandfather told me happened here. There are so many people dying they couldn’t keep up with it. So I see things a little bit differently than perhaps an urban community would.”

When it is operational, about 7,500 hikers come annually from around the world to hike the rugged five-to-seven day, 75-kilometre (47-mile) trek, that meanders along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island between Port Renfrew and Bamfield. Access is capped, usually limited to May 1 through Sept. 30, and available by reservation only.

Parks Canada has requested a decision from the three nations on June 12, for possible open dates of July 10 or 17.

Separately, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which includes 14 West Coast Vancouver Island nations has met to talk about re-opening their territories. A motion to open will be discussed at their June 9 meeting.

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A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Pacific Rim National Park would reopen on June 1. Other national parks will open on the 1st, but Pacific Rim partially opens on the 4th.

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