Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nature based economic development for BC's forest dependent communities.

Tourism is already a major contributor to the BC economy. It adds approximately $12 Billion to the economy each year. BC is sold under the heading of "Super Natural BC", but are we doing enough to attract tourists. Switzerland with an area of less than 5% of BC's, takes in more than twice the amount of tourist dollars. While there are considerable populations in the neighboring countries, Switzerland has been developing its nature based economy for more than 150 years.

A web site on hiking trails ( ) provides information on hiking trails throughout the world. A search on BC provides approximately 300 trails, while a search on Switzerland shows well over 2000 trails. Photographs of the trails in Switzerland demonstrate a high standard of trail construction and maintenance. The surface or tread of the trails are well prepared and free of tripping hazards. The average trail in BC is called what we call a "back country trail" built and maintained to a much lower standard. Large stones, roots and other tripping hazards are the norm on our 'back country' trails and some exhibit serious erosion, even in protected areas.

There is considerable opportunity for forest dependent communities throughout BC to expand their nature based forest economies by making their local forest landscapes more accessible for hiking and other nature based recreational activities.  Although BC Parks is celebrating its centennial this year, there is little hope that the presently underfunded Park system will see any extra money for trail building and maintenance. A local initiative manned by volunteers, donations and possibly some help from some government programs could transform towns into desirable destinations. A community based trail development initiative could develop trails on any public land in the surrounding landscape. A trail could traverse area in a timber producing forest and a park or protected area. Although BC has approximately 14% of its area designated as parks, there is an even greater area of wild natural area, that is within working forest landscapes. More than half of some timber producing forest landscapes cannot be harvested or comprise alpine area ideally suited for nature based recreation. A community trail development initiative would just need to get approval from BC Parks and the Ministry of Forests at the planning stage.

Planning and locating a trail system is a key part of a trail development project. A trail may visit several natural features in the landscape on route to its destination that might be a peak or summit or waterfall. The trail needs to be placed or located on the landscape to ensure minimal disturbance and ease of construction. Most forest dependent communities will have some that have experience in road and trail location. There are guidebooks on trail construction that can guide volunteers as they gain experience.

A forest dependent community with system of trails and interesting hikes can make itself known as a desirable destination through tourist information. The trail website mentioned previously allows uploading of routes and photographs of trail features. A trail system can increase local employment directly through  nature based guiding etc. However, the main employment benefits will be in hotels, motels, restaurants and shops. A trail system provides locals with recreation and improves access.  Alpine areas above timber producing forests may be more easily accessible from higher elevation forest roads.

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