RDN approves Descanso Bay Regional Park addition to Salish Sea Marine Trail

Jane Reddington

Sounder Staff

Tuesday, December 6 2016

The Salish Sea Marine Trail is a 257 km marine route designed for paddlers that connects Vancouver Island with the Mainland. The route currently has 23 sites that extend from kilometre zero, which is Clover Point in Victoria, north into the Gulf Islands, past Nanaimo to the Winchelsea and Ballenas islands and across to Lasqueti and Texada islands and then down the Sunshine Coast and across Howe Sound to end at Horseshoe Bay and the beginning of the Trans Canada Trail. 

For John Kitmantis, Acting Project Manager for the British Columbia Marine Trails Network Association (BCMTNA), extending the Trans Canada Trail across the Strait of Georgia is a project near and dear to his heart. The BCMTNA’s mandate since 2009 has been to develop marine trails along the BC coast through a network of access points and campsites. 

“The Salish Sea Marine Trail is an extension of the Trans Canada Trail, which has been trying to link coast to coast through a trail system. The impediment was the Strait of Georgia and this trail adds the missing link and helps with connectivity across the country,” says Kitmantis, whose association is comprised of 10 affiliate paddling clubs.

One of the newest proposed sites is Descanso Bay Regional Park. “It’s a fabulous location in terms of promoting it as a base for kayaking trips and holidays and strategic for being at that location,” says Kitmantis, who approached the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) with a recommendation to establish Descanso Bay Regional Park as a Salish Sea Marine Trail camping site in August, 2016. The recommendation was approved at the October 4, 2016, board meeting.

Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) Director Howard Houle had this to say: “What it will do is it will make Gabriola more accessible, it will allow some economic opportunities, it’s a great place to camp. It puts Gabriola on another map.”

In 2011, the BCMTNA had made arrangements with the RDN to include Descanso Bay as part of the Gulf Island Marine Trail, but Kitmantis says that was a much smaller scale project than what they’re proposing now.

Kitmatis says that with so many pressures on the coast, it’s necessary to focus on the areas that are most conducive to stopping on sheltered beaches. “If we don’t protect these locations, they’ll be eaten away slowly by other uses; eventually it will get to a point that we’re not able to safely navigate the coast and this would be a terrible thing to lose. One of the things that’s really apparent is the lack of formal areas to be able to pull out safely. That was my impetus for getting involved in 2008 to ensure for future generations that people can safely travel the coast by self-propelled craft. This trail is an interesting one because it creates a route, an informal route existed in the past, and it goes through so many diverse landscapes.”

The Salish Sea Marine Trail will create a new paddling route in its own right, providing a human-powered connection spanning the Canadian side of the Salish Sea and providing an opportunity to showcase the ecological and physical richness of the area. It will also reflect its heritage with many of the traditional Aboriginal paddling routes.

Kitmantis also talks about the cultural and Aboriginal heritage in the area and meeting with 15 First Nations groups to see how they might become involved in the Salish Sea Marine Trail. “We’ve got huge potential to make the trail a showcase for the Salish Sea and it’s ecology, environment, history, culture and people. We’ve just started with the First Nations consultations now. We wanted to finalize the route plan so we had something concrete to take to the table.”

The whole trail will be completed by July 1, 2017, in time for Canada’s 150th birthday, which is the date the Trans Canada Trail has set for connecting the country coast to coast. The trail will also become a world-class paddling challenge and a focus for all southern BC paddling on the coast by securing access points and safe havens along the entire route. Hubs like Descanso Bay Regional Park will also bolster tourism and there will be no cost to adding Descanso Bay to the route.

Another proposed site in Cedar - the Nelson Road Boat Launch - is also an important addition to the trail and Kitmantis says kayaking is the perfect way to see the coast. 

“When you’re in a kayak, you become a part of the environment. You’re as much a part of the environment as any bird or otter. That connectivity is huge,” says Kitmantis. “This is truly a great way to experience the coast - out there one-on-one with the elements, with the water and nature and soaking it all in and there’s no experience like it.”