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Coastal Journeys

Thoughts on the BC Marine Trails:  Past, Present, and Future

Former BCMT President Stephanie Meinke reflects on the journey of BC Marine Trails under her leadership and on into the future.

I became involved with the BC Marine Trails concept in late 2007, and led the association from that time until 2016.

 I was inspired by the vision of the BC Marine Trails when I first heard of its existence in early 2007 during a talk and slideshow given by John Kimantas at a Nanaimo Paddlers meeting.  At the end of his presentation he expressed worry over the possibilities of paddlers losing access to some sites because of various land use concerns. He briefly mentioned a BC Marine Trail Association and its work to preserve access, but did not know how it was faring at that time.  The next thing I knew, the Maa-nulth agreement came into the news, which suddenly focused paddlers on potential losses of marine access due to encroaching private and commercial interests.

A flurry of emails between concerned paddlers, Outdoor Recreation Council executive members, and John Kimantas ensued.  All this resulted in a day-long meeting on Dec. 15th, 2007, at the ORC offices in Vancouver.  I was a representative for Nanaimo Paddlers at that meeting. Pete McGee and Chris Ladner from the original BC Marine Trail Association were there too, as well as Charlie Cornfield, the Recreation Officer for the Campbell River district for Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) and the go-between with the BCMTA, and many others too.

I had no idea at that time that it was a life-changing event for me, but after the meeting, Charlie Cornfield and I began to correspond, and we ended up convening the first meeting of a BC Marine Trails Task Force, to be held in Nanaimo in March, 2008. The meeting would comprise reps of the clubs that attended the Dec 5th meeting.  Charlie volunteered me to become coordinator, and then by March, 2009, after its incorporation, I became first president of the renewed BC Marine Trails Network Association (the word ‘network’ added to differentiate it from the previous organization). So, feeling woefully ill-equipped, I led the renewed BCMT until the fall of 2016. It felt like an all-encompassing roller coaster ride that lasted for nine years. Finally feeling exhausted by the responsibility and strain, I retired from the position and started catching up with the rest of my life.

The revised association, with the same basic vision of preserving BC coastal access for marine recreationists in small craft, was full of dedication and enthusiasm.  I am very happy to see BCMT over the last three years continuing its growth and endeavours, and much commend Paul Grey, the present president, and the rest of the executive, for their hard work and continued dedication.  I know how very difficult that work can be.

In my early years, we developed progressive working relationships with BC Parks, who already had a policy of allowing camping in remote wilderness parks, but they also allowed us to post coordinates that facilitated users in locating the best and safest landings and camping areas in those parks.  The BCMTNA compiled a huge database of access points and campsites on the BC coast, along with a massive interactive website map available to the public. We proposed a large number of Crown land sites for recreation site status, the highest level of legal establishment available for Crown lands. Because of changing government priorities and some First Nations and other concerns, however, only a small number of our proposed sites have actually become officially established up to this time. 

For our crucial Crown land focus, we had some strong supporters in RSTBC, including Charlie Cornfield and his assistant, Janis Leach, but also Bill Marshall, the Director of RSTBC; Paul Tataryn, Regional Manager; and Frank Ullman, Recreation Officer for the South Coast District. Alas, each of these key people retired, one after another. They were replaced by others with different priorities, who mostly did not have the long-term background of the BCMTN and its vision.  This resulted in a new consultative dynamic with our government partners. Government grants and assistance for the BC Marine Trails has noticeably slowed down in the past few years. The process of establishing marine recreation sites has also become significantly more complicated, and responsibilities for care and maintenance of sites has become a significant issue.

Looking back and forward:

Our Vision was “A Marine Network of access points and campsites along the BC Coast designed by paddlers, to ensure continued coastal access by kayak, canoe, and other small boats.”  Do I think this will ever be attained? In a concrete, officially established and permanent sense… no. We were a little naive in the early days. We do not, after all, represent a very large percentage of outdoor recreationists in British Columbia. So our government has an unwillingness to commit too much to our project, as they, understandably, really do have other priorities.  And now, with the undeniable, concrete evidence of rising sea levels, we have to wonder how many of our coveted beaches will still exist, even 20 years from now.

That all being said, I still very strongly support the BC Marine Trails and its vision.  I continue to paddle the trails myself, every year, and love every minute of it. 

Another sign of BCMT naivete in the early days was the thought that all we had to do was focus on working with government on trails development, but that the care and maintenance of established sites would not be our responsibility. I personally have always believed in the necessity of committing to stewardship of the trails. I took it to heart when Charlie Cornfield stated at that very first meeting in 2007, that, ‘yes, government can establish the sites, but ‘it will still be up to the paddlers to keep them.’ The inference was clear to me: We will not be able to secure whatever sites we do attain for perpetuity, if we cannot commit to significant stewardship of them.

In retirement then, I try to join coastal cleanup efforts when I can and am hoping to participate this year.  I also try to educate myself as much as possible about the drastic threats to our whole environment including of course, global warming, due to human excesses. So, as well as the ongoing work of developing and caring for the BC Marine Trails, what can each of us do to mitigate our own eco-footprints in order to help prevent looming environmental disasters, including rising sea levels and disappearing campsites? 

I focus much of the energy I have now in making myself leave as small an eco-footprint as I can, and work on ways to encourage others to do the same.   If we love the marine trails we paddle, I think that this is now a critical thing we can do to help to preserve them. And about the next generation: How do I and my husband prepare our grandson for the world we’ll be leaving behind? Thank God for Greta Thunberg and those like her. We need to follow her example.  After all, paddling is much more eco-friendly than flying.

So, what do I think is the future of the BC Marine Trails? 

It is the crucial work of BCMT to continue to do what it can do:

STEWARDSHIP: Maintain a very active focus on doing stewardship. The developing stewardship program in all its aspects is crucial, for the sake of our environment, of course, but also for the sake of the state of the trails, and to demonstrate and promote BCMT’s core environmental values. By demonstrating BCMT integrity and long-term commitment, we have a better chance of gaining more support from government, stakeholders, and the public, and hence, further endorsement of our vision.  

TRAILS DEVELOPMENT:  Keep working with government and stakeholders to secure site use is a given.  However, my opinion again, we must understand the importance of our own chief resource, the BCMT web-based map. We need to continue to improve and increase the information available on this resource, and carefully guard its integrity. Whether ‘official site’ status, or notations of other used sites, and even safety stops, this resource, in my opinion, is the BCMT.  The vision complete, if not entirely ‘concrete’. 

Paddlers simply need to use this map to plan their trips.  The information they need to paddle the BC coast is all there!

Thanks:

Regarding the map, I want to thank a couple of my long-term associates: 

  • Nick Heath - by collecting and recording data from many individuals over the years, Nick has doggedly developed our extensive sites database.
  • Paul Grey – he has been just as dogged, first of all, in taking on the formidable position of president off my hands, and at the same time, dealing with our website developers, and doing much of the maintenance himself, with its many issues (not counting many of his other duties).

Another thanks, to John Kimantas, who has used his considerable skills to support and promote the BC Marine Trails from past to present.

Thanks to all the former and current directors, volunteers, and supporters of the BC Marine Trails vision, for their long volunteer hours and commitments. 

And thanks especially to Peter McGee for thinking of it in the first place!  

-Stephanie Meinke, 

Coordinator of the Marine Trails Task Force (MTTF) 2008-2009

President of the BCMT 2009-2016



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