On September 19, 2023, I had the pleasure of presenting An Overview of the Work of BC Marine Trails (BCMT) to a very welcoming contingent of the Bluewater Cruising Association at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. I was asked to share a summary of BCMT’s work with the membership through Currents. Building on comments and questions from participants during and after the presentation, here is my report.
BC Marine Trails’ vision is to link the entire BC coastline through marine routes and land sites for sustainable water-based public recreation.
Historical Context of the BC Marine Trails Network Association
During my presentation, I was asked about the origins of BC Marine Trails. I was embarrassed to say that I did not know the earlier details, but am happy to have this chance to give a more precise answer now and to share an interesting connection. Peter McGee, author of Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest Coast, had originally proposed the creation of a BC Marine Trail from Washington to Alaska in the 1990s. This early version of our BC Marine Trails Association established its first trail campsite and composting toilet at Blackberry Point on Valdez Island, and set up a rest stop and toilet at Musgrave Point on Saltspring Island. I learned from a participant that some of the association’s earlier meetings had apparently been held at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, with strong support from the boating community and the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC. Unfortunately, the original group was unable to maintain its momentum for this daunting task and the association folded. Thankfully, in 2007, a renewed interest in the vision led to the formation of the BC Marine Trails Network Association, with Stephanie Meinke as the first president. Dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers began the massive task of identifying not a linear Washington-Alaska route, but rather a connected network of approximately 3,100 potential sites along BC’s 27,000 km of coastline.
Current Context of BC Marine Trails
From 2016 to present, our current president, Paul Grey, the Board, and countless volunteers have worked tirelessly to further BC Marine Trails’ vision for creating a public network of marine trails in the province. In our strategic plan for achieving this vision, we use an approach that focuses on three foundational pillars: First Nations Engagement; Protecting our Coast (Stewardship); and Developing Safe, Contiguous Trails. BCMT now has over 1,000 members, and our BC Marine Trails Map currently lists over 1,400 sites, with more sites being approved each year, thanks to ongoing collaboration with First Nations’ communities, BC Parks, Recreation Sites and Trails BC, and other land partners. It’s an exciting time for BC Marine Trails!
During my presentation, I shared a brief overview of our three pillars, and the importance of each in furthering our vision. It is important to note that our three pillars are woven into all of our collaborative work as an association, as volunteers, and as marine recreationists. Many of the Bluewater Cruising Association members I spoke with pointed out that we share a common appreciation and respect for the coast. As you read through the pillars of our organization, I hope that much of what we are doing will resonate with you and perhaps get you thinking about ways that our volunteers and associations might work together for marine recreation in B.C.
BC Marine Trails’ Three Pillars
1. First Nations Engagement reminds us that our focus is to respectfully engage with First Nations through citizen-based reconciliation. BCMT shares its advanced ArcGIS mapping system data with each Nation within the boundaries of their traditional territory. We are also currently working with a small number of First Nations territories on developing respectful visitor guidelines and public education. This collaborative work is then shared with other communities.
Impact to date:
- Currently, we have engaged at varying levels with 40 of 74 Coastal First Nations. At least 525 coastal sites have been approved to display on our maps, many with links to information about the First Nations territories. Example: Ahousat Stewardship Fee.
- Our collaborative work with First Nations is helping to protect sensitive traditional sites, and to educate the public on respectful visitation in First Nations territories. Example: Visiting the Mamalillikula Territory.
- Building relationships between First Nations peoples and BCMT’s paddling/boater community is focused on reconciliation and mutual respect, in which we acknowledge our shared interests of safety, protection, and education.
2. Protecting our Coast is where we focus on three programs aimed at protecting the coast and educating the public: our well-researched Marine Code of Conduct, our new Coastal Caretakers initiative, and our ongoing Collaborative Cleanups. We know that pristine beaches are regenerative, and that all who visit coastal sites can contribute in some way.
Impact to date:
- Since April 2023, our new Coastal Caretakers program has already engaged over 60 businesses and individuals who gave VOICE to over 300 coastal sites by submitting a Site Condition Report (SCR-Survey 123 app), showing their actions: Visiting, Observing, Interacting, Caretaking, and Exchanging data with BCMT.
- Our Marine Code of Conduct is a big part of our public education. We offer stickers to outdoor recreation companies to help reinforce three principal behaviours with people new to coastal exploration: the importance of removing fire pits, defecating below high tide, and leaving sites cleaner than you found them.
- In 2023, BCMT volunteers worked on three collaborative cleanups. In a cleanup with Surfrider and Ahousaht First Nation, we removed 16 super sacks of marine debris from Vargas Island. Over four days in the spring and fall, we held two other cleanups with several paddling clubs, to pull and burn vast quantities of invasive English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry on Gerald Island; we also did a collaborative cleanup with Rugged Coast.
3. Developing Safe, Contiguous Trails is BC Marine Trails’ third foundation, and also the spark that shaped our vision. We have developed an advanced mapping system that is connected to a public database, with over 1,400 coastal sites displayed. Using heat maps, we can visually display sites that are positioned too far apart from each other to be considered safe for non-motorized marine travel. Before a site is listed on the public BCMT map, there is a thorough site assessment and owner or manager consultation process. This process takes time and requires ongoing, respectful relationships.
Impact to date:
- We are working respectfully with First Nations territories to gain sites and close gaps in marine trails along the entire BC coast.
- Our safety criterion was recently supported by the Canadian Coast Guard.
- As part of the Trans Canada Trail project, we have worked closely with the Sea Kayaking Association of BC (SKABC) on the Sea-to-Sky Marine Trail, which now includes Apodaca Provincial Park on Bowen Island.
- More site assessments were completed over the summer and will soon be available on our BCMT map for recreational use. Regenerative tourism represents a sustainable way of traveling and discovering new places.
- BC Marine Trails has partnered with BC Backroads Maps, and a BCMT layer is now available on their app.
How can you support BC Marine Trails?
BC Marine Trails has over a thousand members supporting our vision to see the entire British Columbia coastline linked through marine routes and land sites for sustainable water-based public recreation. It’s a huge vision and we can only keep moving toward it with ongoing support from our valued volunteers, funders, and advocates. If you would like to add your enthusiasm and energy to achieving this vision, here are just a few ways to get involved:
- Join us as a BCMT member to gain greater access to coastal site photos, articles, and updated information on our BCMT map. Membership costs are $30/individual, $45/family, and $100/organization.
- Join us as a Coastal Caretaker and add your VOICE to the coastal sites you visit. For example, some of you mentioned how you have been finding and removing debris on a beach. We love to receive reports and photos about remote sites that we can then share with site owners and managers.
- Volunteer with us and share your passion for the coast.
- Learn more about our efforts to promote respectful visitation of First Nations territories by reviewing our recent Story Map collaboration with the Mamalillukula First Nation and checking our BC Marine Trails Map for First Nations territory visitor information.
- Of course, we are always grateful when someone chooses to Make a Donation to further the work of BC Marine Trails. We are a registered charity and financial support is always appreciated, as it helps us make our vision a reality.