The Aboriginal Leadership Initiative (Ahp-ii-cuk) and the Clayoquot Forest Communities Program have been working closely with Ahousaht and a number of other key partners since 2008 to re-open the Wild Side Heritage Trail, reports trail coordinator Denise Sam and Forest Communities Program coordinator Stephanie Hughes.

The trail, from the Ahousaht’s main village to the wild outer coast of Flores Island, is a unique showcase of the First Nation’s history and culture. The trail has been continuously used by the Ahousaht people for hundreds of years. The trail was—and still is—used to gather medicinal plants and seasonal food, to collect wood and wood products such as bark for cultural uses, and to go on spiritual quests.

In the 1990s, Ahousaht partnered with environmental groups to build an extensive boardwalk and trail system, which is now being repaired and restored in collaboration with BC Parks and the BC Conservation Corps. The trail offers a unique perspective to visitors, including cultural education that enhances the users’ experience. It also offers a truly breathtaking wilderness hike on the “wild side” of Flores Island in the heart of Clayoquot Sound.

In addition to the trail re-opening, plans are in place for the building of a welcome centre designed in close collaboration with the Ahousaht people to act as a headquarters for the Wild Side Heritage Trail. The new centre will provide hikers with trail information, a public washroom and a small gallery showcasing local artisans’ work. It will also address safety concerns.

Early discussions with the community and particularly water taxi operators raised concerns around inadequate registration for trail use and safety. As first responders to an emergency in their territory, Ahousaht members want to centralize where hikers register and pay user fees. Ahousaht staff could then ensure that all users are adequately prepared and educated on wilderness trail etiquette.

The centre will be made from the local timber supply, as a business plan for a sawmill in the community is being finalized with Ecotrust Canada and the Ahousaht Council.

Congratulations to the community of Ahousaht for graciously hosting and supporting meetings, and driving this promising community economic development project from the ground up. Also, special thanks to the Elders of Ahousaht for your wise and measured input. Kleco to the Hereditary and Elected Chiefs in Council in providing direction and important support.

Chuu,

Denise Sam and Stephenie Hughes