Trees still block an access road to the north shore of Cameron Lake, where cabins appear to have escaped damage. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Parks cleanups and closures continue on Vancouver Island in wake of windstorm

Damage assessment underway due to fallen trees, hanging debris

BY MIKE YOUDS

Alberni Valley News

Parks and utility crews along with trail volunteers continue a massive cleanup effort weeks after high winds downed trees and scattered debris, forcing closure of area parks, roads and trails.

Some of those parks remained closed as another weather system brought snow then rain to inland and eastern sections of Vancouver Island.

The Dec. 20 storm knocked out power for up to two weeks in some locales, blocking roads and damaging property. Winds gusting as strong as 100 km-h in some areas levelled swaths of trees around Whiskey Creek in particular, forcing extended highway closures and traffic delays through the busy holiday period.

With widespread damage, B.C. Parks closed all of MacMillan (the southern section was later reopened), Englishman River Falls, Little Qualicum Falls and Hemer parks on the central Island. Other continuing closures include Maquinna (Hot Springs Cove), Montague Harbour (Galiano Island), Bamberton (Mill Bay) and Roberts Memorial (Ladysmith).

Severe weather continues to affect area parks and tourism.

Parks Canada kept in place a high wave warning through last Tuesday, recommending that Pacific Rim visitors exercise caution on beaches. Seven of nine trails in the national park are still closed due to storm damage. Staff are assessing the trails and will reopen them once considered safe. Radar Hill and Grice Bay roads remained closed on the weekend.

Parks on the central and southern Island took the brunt of storm damage, primarily with downed trees over roads and hazard trees, said a spokesman with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. Park operators have begun post-storm assessments before a full-scale cleanup gets underway.

Gowland Tod and Goldstream provincial parks, together with Golden Ears on the mainland, reopened after initial closure.

Work began on Monday, Jan. 7 at MacMillan Provincial Park to complete north-side facility upgrades, including fence repair, boardwalk installation and trail surfacing, the ministry noted. Debris cleanup on the north side of the highway will have to be completed as well. The area is expected to reopen in mid-March.

A damage assessment determined 138 trees in the park failed at the root while another 55 snapped. Six trees will need to be cut and moved within the ecosystem area.

High winds usually take a toll on trees, roads and trails, but the late-fall storm packed an extra wallop. Even around the city, where winds were not as severe as some parts of the Island, windfalls blocked trails and left a section of Rogers Creek Trail temporarily impassable. An estimated 100 trees were down near Hole in the Wall.

Volunteers with Alberni Valley Outdoor Club were out with chainsaws, clearing debris within days along the trails.

“People who are using the trails will certainly clean up,” said Karen George, a club member.

Sandy McRuer, retired forester and a regular hiker, said there was quite a bit of blowdown damage in the Cox Lake area of Franklin River Road that has been cleaned up since the storm.

B.C. Hydro reported in the aftermath of the December storm that 756,000 electrical customers were affected. That made it a larger event than the August 2015 windstorm that hit the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley primarily, and larger than a 2006 windstorm that swept the Island and damaged Stanley Park.

Check individual park websites for updates on closures.

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The beginning of Rogers Creek Trail was underwater following storms in late December and early January. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

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