Tourism report urges transportation links to Great Bear Rainforest

A Spirit Bear with her black cub in the Great Bear Rainforest
A Spirit Bear with her black cub in the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo by Max Bakken.

VICTORIA — First Nations and tourism operators say better transportation links are needed for people to experience the Great Bear Rain Forest, described by the province as B.C.'s gift to the world.

A report released Tuesday from aboriginal groups, businesses and communities in the central-coast region concludes transportation challenges in the area are hurting tourism opportunities at a time when First Nations tourism potential is exploding in other parts of B.C.

"You have an iconic destination with the Great Bear Rainforest," said Keith Henry, chairman of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia. "We've got communities who want to share their cultures, but the question is how do we really take advantage of visitors from across Canada, the United States and the world."

The provincial government introduced legislation this month that protects 85 per cent of the world's largest intact temperate rainforest from logging.

Henry said a ferry working group recently presented its transportation and tourism development report to B.C.'s transportation and jobs ministers and officials with BC Ferries. The report calls for increased ferry service to the area within two years if increased tourism demand is demonstrated.

High costs and fewer passengers prompted the Transportation Ministry to cut ferry service along the Port Hardy to Bella Coola service two years ago, despite the concerns of First Nations and tourism operators.

Heiltsuk Nation councillor Travis Hall said it's now cheaper to fly to Hawaii from Vancouver than to the central coast community of Bella Bella, located on the doorstep of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The Heiltsuk have plans to develop Great Bear Rainforest tours and First Nations artist shows, but ferry service is limited to Fridays and Saturday only.

"It has one ferry sailing south on Friday evening and one ferry sailing north on Saturday evening," said Hall. "They arrive at one in the morning and leave at two, so there's really no possibility of even doing any tourism-type venues in that time period."

BC Ferries has plans to introduce a new vehicle-passenger vessel in the area in 2019.

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