Tourism balances sustainability and industry in the Caté region

Trails, parks and waterways attract residents and tourists, according to Tourism Powell River

The City of Powell River and Cattett Regional District, places of natural beauty and rugged open spaces, attract thousands of visitors each year.

Visitors flock here for the trails and kayaking, as well as the many festivals held during the summer months. qathet is not only a tourist destination but also a working community with logging, fishing and other industries such as mining and aquaculture. So far, the region has maintained a balance between tourism and industry, quite successfully.

“Statistically, the main attractions in Powell River are [our local] hiking trails, followed by the Sunshine Coast Trail, (SCT), which is seeing a return to numbers close to pre-COVID-19 levels now that the huts have reopened,” said Tracey Ellis, Tourism Powell River Executive Director. “Kayak, cultural sites [historic Townsite, qathet Museum and Archives, and Texada Island Museum] and Lund are the next popular places for visitors.’

BC there is a general trend for people to visit healthier areas.

“There is increased visitor interest in accessing the countryside, which requires caution around logging activities and limited road access,” Ellis explained.

Attractions such as the Powell Forest Canoe Trail, a 57km journey across eight lakes, is a good example of balancing industry with tourism.

The Powell River Educational Services Society (PRESS), a local-led non-profit organization, began revitalizing and upgrading the canoe route in 2021, which is expected to be completed later this year.

“We are now trying to restore some of the more remote campsites,” Hugh Pritchard, project manager, told PRESS.

The route has been in operation for more than 50 years and “improvements are ongoing and we are constantly taking care of various issues along the trail,” he added.

There are 23 campsites along the route and a transfer trail that is traveled by hundreds of hikers each year. Sunshine Coast Tourism has partnered with PRESS to promote the route at home and abroad.

“The sites themselves are in excellent condition and the trail is in good condition,” Pritchard said. “We replaced all 120 canoe maps and are building a bridge that connects the portage trail. This is a work in progress; we’ve replaced a beautiful brand new dock on Windsor Lake, which is one of our main locations on the northern end of the route.’

He emphasized that PRESS creates a world-class amenity and believes in a collaborative approach with timber owners in the area.

Ellis said sustainable tourism is tourism that fully considers its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, industry, the environment and host communities.

“In 2022, the visitor center provided personal information to respond to 13,630 requests for information, of which 6,502 were questions about the Sunshine Coast Trail, Kayaking, the Powell Forest Canoe Trail, Lund and Texada Island,” she added .

Tourism Powell River launched a digital app in 2021 and is now concluding its two-year pilot phase. The easy-to-use digital guidebook provides visitors with a wide variety of information on campgrounds, trails, and a city map detailing dining and shopping options.

“Prior to COVID, we could estimate about 100,000 visitors to the Northern Sunshine Coast annually,” Ellis said. “This has decreased since COVID as we have seen fewer visitors at the visitor centre. Launching the new community app, we serve between 5,800 and 7,500 visitors and locals who use the app.

“The people working in tourism at Powell River and Sunshine Coast Tourism are working hard to promote the region as an attractive outdoor destination for visitors, while at the same time being concerned with maintaining a balance with nature and sustainability.”

Signs have recently been put up at SCT lodges to encourage a pack-in mentality for visitors.

“We went with vinyl banners for public notices and posted at every hut on the Sunshine Coast Trail humorous but sharp messages about using huts and caring for the environment,” Ellis said. “People were horrified when I said we don’t want to be the next Tofino, Whistler or Squamish, but it can be challenging to manage the three principles of sustainability, which address the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.

“An appropriate balance must be struck between these three dimensions to ensure its long-term sustainability.”

Local fishing guide Pat Demeester believes this region could be a “world-class fishery” and that ecotourism could flourish here. However, he is concerned that there are too many stakeholders at the back of the country.

“Everybody in the world wants to go to Lake Nanton,” Demeester said.

This campground was closed last year by Recreation Sites and Trails BC, which manages the area, due to concerns about dangerous forest.

Demister is also frustrated by the trash and debris left along the shores of the Lake Lois watershed, where he lives and works as a fishing guide.

Vancouver Coast and Mountains recently released a report from its sustainability council that focuses on some key areas, according to Ellis.

“Improving industry adoption of sustainable and responsible tourism practices; promoting respectful and sustainable visitor practices in communities, natural spaces and cultural sites,” she said.

In the past, Tourism Powell River has worked with a local business to rent e-bikes to visitors and the venture has been successful; however, this business is moving to Savary Island.

“We’re always open to working with local business partners who have great ideas,” Ellis said. “We encourage walking and cycling with our street and trail maps and are happy to spend time with visitors helping them navigate the public transport system.”

Annie Wise, CEO of Sunshine Coast Tourism, is busy thinking and researching this very question of sustainability and tourism.

“The region’s 10-year destination development strategy, funded by Destination BC and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, was developed over 12 months, which included engagement and consultation sessions with local stakeholders, municipal and regional government, and local First Nations,” Wise said.

She added that the report aims to show the vision, goals and actions underway to ensure the Sunshine Coast/qathet region continues its growth as a vibrant, thriving tourism destination and for the benefit of residents.

Some of the topics under consideration are transport improvements up and down the coast, including continued efforts to improve the Sunshine Coast cycle route and a consistent shuttle between the lower and upper Sunshine Coast.

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