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Avatar Grove's popularity creates need for trail

Jun 08 2012

Thousands of pairs of feet have tromped through Avatar Grove over the last two years, and now the old-growth forest needs some protection from too much love.

The Ancient Forest Alliance, which brought Avatar Grove into the public eye and lobbied for its protection, has asked the Forests Ministry for permission to build a trail and boardwalk.

"We want to improve accessibility and it's vital to protect the ecology and make sure the tree roots don't get worn down," said TJ Watt, the Alliance campaigner who discovered the grove.

The group, supported by the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, is prepared to fundraise and use volunteer labour to build the trail, Watt said.

However, it is looking for an engineer to help with design and safety issues, he said.

A heavily used but unofficial trail has been created through the trees by the many tree-loving tourists and a boardwalk and steps are particularly needed in wet areas and steep slopes, Watt said.

"People visit year-round, even in rain and snow," he said. "I would guess tens of thousands of people have been there now."

Platforms will be created beside the much-photographed gnarly tree and other areas of particular significance.

Access from the logging road is currently hit-and-miss, so signs are needed to direct people to the one-kilometre trail and to ask them to stay on the trail and pack out litter, Watt said.

Rosie Betsworth, Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce president, said the public passion for tall trees has put the community - which previously relied largely on logging - back on the map.

"I am surprised how many people love big, old trees," she said.

"People are coming to Port Renfrew, not just for camping and fishing, they are coming in herds to see tall trees. - One of the most often asked questions in Port Renfrew is 'How do you get to Avatar Grove?' "

The grove was discovered by Watt in February 2010. Shortly afterward, much of it was flagged for logging, as only 24 per cent was protected through an old-growth management area.

The Ancient Forest Alliance spearheaded a campaign to protect the grove and, earlier this year, the provincial government expanded the old-growth management area to 59 hectares.

The environmental group is now fighting to protect another stand of old-growth trees it has nicknamed Christy Clark Grove.

Watt said that even though he immediately saw the magic of the gnarly trees, ferns and massive Douglas firs, he is surprised the area has become such a tourism driver.

"But it is the most fantastic place for people to come and experience B.C.'s coastal rain forest," he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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