All eyes were on the shore of Transfer Beach on May 14, where more than 50 kayaks and canoes arrived at Paddlefest for the official opening of the Gulf Island and West Coast Vancouver Island BC Marine Trails Network.
The impressive fleet paddled from Chemainus for the opening, which marked a long-standing partnership between the BC Marine Trails Association, the provincial government and other stakeholders to establish a series of interconnecting marine trails along BC’s coastline.
The grand opening saw the announcement of 27 access, picnic and camping sites in the Gulf Island trails, and 74 access, picnic and camping sites in the West Coast Vancouver Island trails.
“This grand opening has been a long time in the making,” said Stephanie Meinke, BC Marine Trails Network Association president. “It ensures that, what began hundreds of years ago by the First Nation peoples, the public will be able to paddle the coastline of B.C. and have sufficient access and camping places along the way for now and future generations.”
Sharon Bilko was one of the dozens of kayakers to make the ceremonial journey from Chemainus to Ladysmith.
“It was great to be part of such a big group,” she said. “A lot of people came with a club or organization, so I think that brought large numbers together.”
The group, comprised of approximately 100 paddlers, were welcomed by Stz’uminus First Nation Chief John Elliot, who stood on shore to welcome them and grant them permission to come ashore. Speaking later to the crowd of spectators, dignitaries and BC Marine Trail partners, Elliot said he has always been shown respect from local paddlers and looks forward to building future partnerships.
“For generations, my family, my ancestors have travelled these waters and have taken care [of them], and the reason why the Stz’uminus people fight so hard to protect the waters and lands in this area, is because of the value we see in it,” he said.
Paddling enthusiast Alex Matthews said the marine trails are important for the longevity of the sport by providing secure land access points along the coast.
“For sea kayaking, you need a bunch of campsites that are relatively close together to be able join up sections of the coast,” he said. “In many places on the coast, there are no formal agreements, we’ve just been really lucky and really spoiled that we can go to all sorts of places.”
Paddlefest was in full force Saturday, with dozens of vendors and concessions to educate, outfit and nourish both seafarers and spectators. Periods of drizzle were intermittent during the day but held off for the afternoon ceremony.
Hundreds of paddle enthusiasts of all ages attended Paddlefest workshops and activities. Sunday’s wet weather made the crowd numbers drizzle, but there was no shortage of paddlers on the water throughout the morning.
For more information on the BC Marine Trails Network, visit www.bcmarinetrails.org