The Wild Pacific Trail – one man’s dream creates an internationally-renowned legacy

Oyster Jim Martin - the dreamer, and the dream

Oyster Jim Martin – the dreamer, and the dream

One man’s dream. One magical internationally-renowned legacy. That best sums up Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail – a spectacular network of easily accessible walking trails  that stretches for a total of 10 kilometres (6.25 miles)  along the awe-inspiring headlands of Vancouver Island’s wild west coast.  There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe this beautiful-beyond-words trail. And there probably aren’t enough words in the English language to thank Oyster Jim Martin, the affable, low-key fellow who came up with the idea way back in 1980 and finally is seeing his dream come to fruition after 25 years.

The historic Amphitrite Lighthouse overlooks the Graveyard of the Pacific

The historic Amphitrite Lighthouse overlooks the Graveyard of the Pacific

The story of Oyster Jim and the Wild Pacific Trail evolved because Jim enjoyed fishing and hiking along the rough coastal headlands near the small fishing village of Ucluelet. He conceived of a walking trail that would allow folks of all ages, abilities and financial status to enjoy the sublime beauty of the wild coastline. His initial efforts to interest the community fell on deaf ears – fishing and logging were the mainstays of the local economy early on and there was little, if any, interest in developing the trail.

Crashing surf draws storm watchers during the winter months

Crashing surf draws storm watchers during the winter months

Things began going sideways with the traditional employment tracks in the late 1980s however, and by 1995 the bottom had fallen out of both sources of income for many local families.  Oyster Jim, with his quiet persistence, convinced the community that a trail that offered stunning vistas might help boost tourism.

Mesmerizing.....

Mesmerizing…..

It all sounds pretty straightforward, but in fact the maneuvering that it took to acquire the co-operation of developers, First Nations, private property owners, federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments and logging companies is almost as mind-boggling as the finished product.  Oyster Jim credits Charles S. Smith, former director of real estate for the now extinct MacMillan Bloedel  forestry company, with much of the success of acquiring access to the headlands, but it is clear that without Oyster Jim’s perseverance nothing would have happened.

The story of the destruction of the  barque Pass of Melfort and the subsequent construction of the Amphitrite Light explains why this section of coast is called the Graveyard of the Pacific

The story of the destruction of the barque Pass of Melfort and the subsequent construction of the Amphitrite Light explains why this section of coast is called the Graveyard of the Pacific

The first leg of the trail, a 2.6 kilometre (1.6 mile) loop, wends its way through old growth rainforest, along craggy promontories,  out to the Amphitrite Lighthouse and back to a well-marked parking lot.  The loop trail opened in 1999 and has been a popular destination for locals and travelers alike.  We got our first taste of it at sunset during a brief summer stopover and were so entranced that we made immediate plans to return, to see more and take in the stunning sweeping vistas, the wildlife, the forest – the enchantment of a truly wild, unspoiled and inspiring place.

Looking towards the Broken Group Islands and the Graveyard of the Pacific, where so many ships have foundered and so many lives have been lost over the years

Looking towards the Broken Group Islands and the Graveyard of the Pacific, where so many ships have foundered and so many lives have been lost over the years

The Lighthouse Loop is an easy walk, and pretty much anyone should be able to manage it with ease.  There is even wheelchair access at the lighthouse; anyone in a wheelchair with a strong companion would probably be able to enjoy the entire loop with little trouble.

Dogs are welcome on the trail but should be kept on leash due to the presence of wildlife

Dogs are welcome on the trail but should be kept on leash due to the presence of wildlife

Further along the peninsula there is an additional 7 1/2 kilometres (4.6 miles) of trail that straggles along the coastline, providing more spectacular scenery looking out to the vast Pacific Ocean. Various sections of the trail are divided up with names such as Ancient Cedars and Rocky Bluffs, Artist Loops, and Big Beach and Brown’s Beach.  There is also an interpretive trail at Terrace Beach, very close to the lighthouse loop.

Depending on where you decide to start and finish your exploration (there are several access points) you will find picnic tables, a children’s interpretive area, viewing decks, beaches, surge channels, pounding surf – well, the list of delights is endless and always varied depending on the time of year and the time of day that you visit. You can certainly rest assured that you will never be bored, and you will never see the same thing twice – the varied moods of the ocean and the bordering bluffs and forests guarantee that.

There is excellent signage at the access points

There is excellent signage at the access points

One of the best features of the trail is the fact that it allows visitors to marvel at the massive gray whales (upwards of 20,000 of them) that migrate through the area between March and May each year. There is plenty of other wildlife as well, including bald eagles, sea otters, occasional bear, deer, cougar and wolf.

More of the spectacular scenery along the Wild Pacific Trail

More of the spectacular scenery along the Wild Pacific Trail

While some visitors may feel a little nervous about the possibility of encounters with larger predators, Oyster Jim offers a succinct answer to their concerns: “If you act like bait, you get treated like bait.” There are tips on dealing with wildlife in the trail brochure, which is available at the access points to the various sections of the trail.

Virtually all of the trail is well-marked and very well maintained – Oyster Jim spends 48 days a year on the maintenance aspect alone. The actual meticulous building of the trail, viewing platforms, bridges and other features seems to take up most of the rest of his time, but despite the long slog to make his vision a reality he still exudes a quiet enthusiasm for all it offers.

A hiker contemplates the scenery from a high rocky bluff - not a recommended  place to be when the surf is crashing in

A hiker contemplates the scenery from a high rocky bluff – not a recommended place to be when the surf is crashing in

Along the trails visitors will find benches (many of them in memory of Ucluelet pioneers), interpretive signs, brochures, donation boxes, maps, distance markers and bags for doggy excrement.  The entire trail system is so well planned, laid-out and maintained that one is left marveling at the minds and hearts that have created it all. Donations from all quarters help to support the trail, and a dedicated 12-member volunteer board of directors steers the affairs of the non-profit Wild Pacific Trail Society.

I have only one warning about the Wild Pacific Trail – if you expect to complete hiking the various sections in the suggested times on the brochures, forget it. We took more than twice as long on a couple of sections  – not because of any difficulty with the trail, but because at every turn there was another breathtaking view that meant we paused, took hundreds of photos and reveled in the moment (which often stretched to several minutes). I am sure that Oyster Jim and his dedicated team will be pleased to hear that – it is what this wonderful trail is all about.

Further information on the Wild Pacific Trail can be obtained by going to the excellent website (be sure to watch the 22 minute video there) at:

www.wildpacifictrail.com

GPS co-ordinates for the first leg of the trail, the Amphitrite Lighthouse Loop, are:

Lat. 48.92369104633025  Long. -125.54015174761571

N 48 55.421  W 125 32.409

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Shirley

About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers. In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.
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