The Hole-in-the-Wall Conundrum

There is a debate in town about whether this place should be a tourist attraction. Some say it already is. Others say “keep it as is”. And other issues swirl around it. The actual location of the hole is on land owned by the City of Port Alberni, but getting to it is on land controlled by Mosaic Forest Management. They are not known for welcoming people on their property without due notice. And there is more stuff too.
Here are a few shots of it to illustrate what else is there.

Roger Creek makes a U-turn at the Hole-in-the-Wall. Here it is cutting through cliffs of shale, a very soft rock. So the early engineers who built the first waterworks for Alberni took a short cut through the rock wall
And the water falls into a little swimming hole where only the most adventurous dares to use the rope.
Upstream from the Hole, where Stokes Creek joins Roger Creek is another dam from the same ptoject. The end of an old pipe is visible on the right.
The remains of the first water supply to serve Alberni before it merged with Port Alberni originally. These hoops originally bound wooden staves. However, a century later, just the the hoops are left.
A rough trail leads downstream from the Hole-in-the-Wall to this dam at the top of a waterfall…
Seekers Media Video crew in the field. Hired by the city and its partners to promoting things to do in the valley, whether they are on private land or not. there have been other film crews here as well.
These Inukshuks were all built by visitors playing with the flat rocks that litter the creek banks. Roger Creek has some of the best skipping stones I’ve ever seen.

The Status Quo for Hole-in-the-Wall is Not Possible.

I was surprised to see a majority of people responding negatively to the Alberni Valley News poll on making the Hole-in-the-Wall a tourist attraction. A convincing majority are against it. But a poll on something like this is mostly answered by people who haven’t given the issue any thought, or looked into the issues. Still, it is daunting. Something needs to be done whether the majority is against it or not.

I Googled Hole-in-the-Wall to see how many sites promoted it. I stopped counting sites mentioning Hole-in-the-Wall at 50. They include, the Chamber of Commerce, a three hiking apps, Trip Advisor, Flickr, several blogs, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and many, many more. There is even a Chinese language site featuring it. Word-of-mouth is also an important factor in the popularity of the site. Closing the attraction without notifying all these sites would result in a lot of unhappy visitors, and damage to Port Alberni’s fragile reputation for tourism.

Crowds start in April and go into October at both entrances. They are regularly plugged up with vehicles, with the overflow going into Coombs Country Candy. Erosion, trampling and garbage are also an issue.

Ask the RCMP how many accidents, near misses, and incidents have happened around Coombs Country Candy, and the Black Powder Range Road. Then there are the people who find no parking and park at the candy store. Then they scamper across the highway, some taking chances with the traffic because of their impatience.

It’s not just the Hole-in-the-Wall that is the attraction, although it is a pretty good name. Across the road we have a lookout, a trail network, downhill mountain bike courses, and a starting point for ATV adventures. Also, Coombs Country Candy is definitely part of the attraction. It is a wonderful spot to relax after any of these activities. The owner, Murray Lawlor, tells me it is very much a part of the success of his business. But he worries about the risks that people who park at Coombs Country Candy take when they cross the highway.

It is high time that the Regional District, Mosaic, Highways, and Lawlor sit down and come up with a plan. Investment is necessary. To Mosaic, I say that there may be a way to lease some property and therefore get some revenue from the land, perhaps from admission charges. Those same admission charges could also pay for the investment in parking, way-finding, and maintenance. Perhaps also, a resort developer could work with the parties to add value to the area.

It is easy to throw out ideas. Perhaps some of them will spark an idea in someone’s head, who is better positioned than I am to make things happen. Leading public opinion is an important quality of leadership. I have to trust that our leaders agree. But I think something has to change, because the alternative is increased degradation of the attraction itself.

A Wastewater Tour Not Wasted

The Estuary of the Somass River is a very special place. It has been part of the lifeblood of this valley since time immemorial. And in a time when the salmon populations in this river are at historic lows any construction activity occurring within the remaining 30% of the original estuary should of concern to every citizen of the valley, including this one. Admittedly, it is late in the game to be taking such an interest, I still thought it would be a good topic to investigate.

 A week ago, Jim Wright and I met Ken Watson at the gate to the road into the wastewater treatment plant under construction on the Somass Estuary. He is the Acting City Engineer. For those who don’t know, Ken has spent most of his career with the City, mostly as the City Engineer, and Chief Administrator. After retirement he was asked to return to act temporarily as Engineer until a permanent one was in the job.  So we had an experienced guide to give the tour of the new wastewater treatment plant.

These hoses or booms pump air down into the weighted diffusers, or bubble-makers that oxygenates the water. Pond levels will rise and the bullrushes will die. Currently both bullfrogs and sunfish live in the ponds. But the winter ducks will very likely return and use the ponds. The gulls will use the new ponds too.

After donning our safety gear, Ken led us through the process. The current wastewater from the city flows through a very large pipe under Somass River and then underground to the currently operating lagoon. From there, a new pipe will extend from the old lagoon to the new lagoon and then into the new screening building. There the water goes through a ½ inch screen. It removes the hard bits like personal products, rags and other things that inadvertently end up in the sewer system. The screened debris ends up in the landfill. The water then goes into a much larger lagoon once used by the paper mill and bought by the city a couple of years ago for this purpose. It has eight times the volume that the current lagoon has. Watson says, “The new lagoon is more cost-effective, and effective”.

The UV building where the water is irradiated with ultraviolet light killing parasites, and pathogens. The 4 columns in the lagoon go 20 meters deep through thousands of years of river deposits. During the project an artifact was found that was 3500 years old. on those pylons a pump will be located that will draw water from the lagoon through to the UV building.

Across the lagoon are a series of floating booms. These will be part of the aeration system. Hanging from the booms, there will be 485 weighted diffusers which pump air bubbles up through the water. The oxygen is used by the fecal bacteria to render the “poop” harmless. I asked Watson ‘”What happens to all the organic matter? Doesn’t it turn to sludge?” The answer I got was that very little sludge was actually produced. Even the old lagoon dredge didn’t produce much sludge. In his career at the City he only remembers it being dredged 3 times. The organic matter is oxidized, that is “burned” by the bacteria releasing the carbon as carbon dioxide.

After the aeration treatment, the water is pumped into another building where it is irradiated with ultra-violet (UV) light. This kills all any pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, left in the water. UV radiation uses no chemicals, and little energy. So it is highly effective.

The mill effluent lagoon was divided in half with this barrier. The cement culverts are to maintain an equal water level in each pond. This also gives you an idea of how high the operating water level will be.

Once irradiated, the water finished treatment. it is pumped 800 meters out into the inlet. Watson is confident that the water will easily meet the current standards set down by the Province and Federal Government. The effluent will be far cleaner than the current lagoon, which has needed replacement to meet current wastewater standards for many years.

This is one end of one of the aeration booms. The winch is to take up the slack when the water level is higher.

This has been a lengthy project. Construction has been ongoing for almost two years. Although it appears to be nearing completion, it is not expected to be in operation until early summer next year. Currently, the electrical power required to operate the system is being upgraded. Also 8 pylons now emerge from the pond. They are to support two pump stations needed to pump the water to the UV operation. Then the new sewage inflow needs to be attached to the existing inflow for the current lagoon. This needs to be done during a “fisheries window”, that is at a time where there is little impact on fish. That window is next spring. So by next summer after a couple of tests, it will be in operation.

Inside the screening building, Ken Watson is removing the cover of the screens.

The next step is deciding what to do with the old lagoon. Its construction took up highly productive salmon habitat. The obvious solution would be to re-establish it. However design objectives, methods and techniques are not as obvious. And it will cost money. Also, it is a popular place for the public to go for walks. So, some do not want to see the road access around this lagoon go away. Others want better connectivity for the smolts coming down to the ocean to linger in the estuary while they adapt to salt water. This would mean creating a gap in that road and also perhaps a defined channel for the water from the river to flow into Shoemaker Bay. There are a lot of alternatives. And the City has committed to a public engagement process before the design stage. That is expected to start in the New Year. So if you are one of those walkers, naturalists, birders or dog lovers who frequent the area, keep an eye out for public notices on this. And voice your opinion.

These screens won’t look so clean in a year or so!

Sources, and Background:

  1. Toprack Home Page Wastewater Engineering
  2. Wastewater Treatment Configurations and Process
  3. Ha-Shilth-Sa Infrastructure project aims to improve salmon habitat
  4. City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Projected to Cost $37.9 Million

Sproat Falls-An Overlooked Tourist Attraction

The following article was published in Nov 1017 in the Alberni Valley News. So some of the information is not current in this year of Covid 19.

I think Sproat Falls is one of the most over-looked tourist attractions in the Alberni valley. Despite it being less than 100 meters from the Highway 4 Bridge over the Sproat River, the falls are scarcely even visible from it and there are no signs to indicate that it is there. A million people a year are reputed to travel this highway a year. Many of them are from out of province, out of country and out of continent. It’s a big trip for them. They have all heard about the salmon migration, and whether they are fishermen or not, they would love an opportunity to see the migration in action.

Sproat Falls is a place where at least 100,000 sockeye salmon pass every year with the majority passing between mid-June and mid-July. At that time the abundance of fish is impressive. It could be very easy for the travelling public to stop for a few minutes in their headlong dash to the Pacific Rim. The fish ladder there, the cliff and the old forest perched on and around it combine to make it quite scenic. And it’s hardly even a detour.

The area should be a park of some sort. In fact, it almost is. Part of the area is designated Park Use on the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s Official Community Plan (OCP) for the area and it is Crown Land.  But there are some hurdles, and a bit of leg work to actually make it so.

There are 5 properties involved. and possibly the Klehkoot Indian Reserve belonging to the Hupacasath. Of the five, only the two biggest properties are public lands, Seaton Park, and the pie-shaped property adjacent the Park. Seton Park belongs to the City of Port Alberni, God knows why. The other property is an isolated chunk of Crown Land. It shades Highway 4 with some nice old forest. Through both properties goes an old grade some call Brand Avenue. It starts at the end of Hector Road and ends just above the Highway 4 Bridge.

Adjacent to the Crown Land toward the bridge, are two small properties, one on each side of the old grade. They are jammed between the Sproat River and Highway 4. The one next to the highway is privately owned and has an old log cabin on it and is not likely part of what I’m proposing. The one next to the river is undeveloped and likely could never be developed because the setbacks for buildings required by the Regional District virtually eliminate any possibility for building on it. However useless it may seem, it is privately owned. Finally just before the bridge there is a smaller parcel of Island Timberlands property that also has little value for the same reason. Just past Faber Road on the right is a rough gravel road that leads down to Brand Ave. Brand Ave actually passes under the highway bridge. It would join the old Ash Main if it were not for the string of boulders across the road.

This road has been on the ACRD’s radar for a while because of the fact that is a popular spot for illegal dumping. Sproat Lake District Board Member, Penny Cote says that because Highways considers this Gazetted road, it is blocking the Regional District’s ambition to establish a vehicle-free corridor along the river, thus frustrating people’s ability to dump garbage along it. It is however blocked by several large boulders under the bridge.

So clearly, there is some legwork to be done. The owner of the private property needs to be contacted to see if could be sold to the Regional District and a price set. Another option could be through a covenant or some other creative arrangement.  Similarly, a negotiation has to take place with Island Timberlands.  The Regional District also needs to talk to both the city of Port Alberni and the Province. A plan needs to be drawn up for parking washroom facilities and perhaps a fence along the top of the cliff. This adds up to a fair bit of staff time.  And the cost to acquire the properties and to install the facilities may not be exactly modest.

It comes down to political will. Is the current or future Regional District board willing to make the effort. They have taken some steps along the way. It is in the Sproat Lake OCP. They have established a Parks Service Review Committee.  And they are exploring ways of acquiring and funding a Regional Park system. In 2015 they produced a Parks & Trails Strategic Plan where a framework for the acquisition and establishment for parks and trails was laid out. Buried at the end of Appendix A, the Public Wish List, these properties are mentioned. Clearly from a local’s perspective, this area is a very low priority. From the travelling public’s perspective it is completely unknown. That is why I say it is the most overlooked tourist attraction in the Alberni Valley.

Patti, my wife, says that people she had talks to would like to see some references about things I talks about.

Sources:

Overnight Camping at Nahmint Recreation Site closed.

I was surprised to hear from a friend in Victoria that one of my favourite Recreation sites is closed to overnight camping, and it is closed for the foreseeable future according to Robert van der Zalm, the BC Coast Regional Manager for Recreation Sites & Trails. The site is closed for all of this year. He said a review of service levels will be conducted in the fall. I guess that means looking at the budget. So there is no guarantee it will ever be open for camping again.

But it is a beautiful campsite, the most beautiful in the Alberni area. You camp in a large stand of very tall old Douglas Fir and Hemlock. There are 12 sites, some of which are a short walk in. A wild creek thunders down the mountainside past the campsite. A little path allows you to get great views of it. A long rocky beach with willows and logs piled around allows visitors to have a swim and some privacy as well if you want. When we last visited, we saw someone on a paddleboard across the lake at the other recreation site, Blackie’s Beach. The access is remote, but it is a bumpy two-wheel-drive all the way. That site is not closed, but has only 6 sites.

One of the dead trees looming over the campsites

This campsite is mentioned several times on the web.  And there are more websites about the circle route, the drive from Port Alberni south along the western shore of the Alberni Inlet before turning inland and up along the north side of Nahmint Lake to the campsite at the north end. From there the road continues to a junction. The right fork takes you up and over a pass with Gracie Lake in it, before descending to Sproat Lake. When you get close to the lake a fork takes you eastward, back to Port Alberni.

The Nahmint Lake area is popular. Patti and I did the driving tour last weekend. We encountered people all along the route, and even on a side tour upriver from the lake.  Where we crossed a big bridge over the river at the north end of the lake, a fellow on a bicycle showed up. He had started in Port Alberni, 56 km back. And he had another 27 km to go back to town. Some of them were fishermen. Others were touring on motorcycles. And some were just out for a picnic by the lake, like us.

The gate to the Nahmint  site is closed and a sign is posted announcing the closure of the site due to “overhead hazards caused by dangerous trees.” But there is a small turnout by the gate where there is room to park and walk down to the site. I didn’t see any wind-thrown trees  hung up in other trees or anything. I did observe a few dead trees with limbs that could break off. Each has a number spray-painted on the trunk. One of them had the top broken off, and the top had driven itself into the soil a good two feet in its fall. It is truly alarming to think what that could have done to someone.

However, it does seem a shame to think that government isn’t providing enough money to keep a popular Recreation site open.

Humph.

https://www.albernivalleynews.com/news/nahmint-valleys-a-gem-for-outdoor-rec/https://www.backroadsbiketouring.com/fav-ride-alberni-inlet-nahmint-lake

Introducing the Alberni Valley

Vancouver Island lies on the west coast of North America. It straddles the 49th parallel, the line that divides much of the United States and Canada.

The Alberni Valley is one of the largest drainages on Vancouver Island and it is very fertile. Once there were vast forests of enormous size, abundant fish, clams, herbs & tubers that once supported two tribes of indigenous people: the Hupacasath and the Tseshaht.

Now the indigenous population is around 4,600 or 18% of the valley population of 25,560.

The mountains that surround the valley rise from sea level to 2,020 meters, well above the treeline which is at about 1600. The ecosystems, or life zones go from Alpine mountaintops, through montane forests of Amabilis Fir, Mountain Hemlock, and Yellow Cedar to highly productive lowland forests of Douglas Fir, Hemlock and Cedar.

Of a 1,437 km,2 valley, there are only, 31.7 km2 in the Agricultural Land Reserve; and of that, 60% is actually farmed. This land is found in the lowest reaches of the valley below Great Central and Sproat lake. A further 100 ha is residential or industrial, 400 km²is privately owned forest land, and the rest is Crown Land in in Forest Reserves.

There are around 25,000 inhabitants in the Alberni Valley including 7,000 from two First Nations, theTseshaht and the Hupacsath.

There are plenty more facts and issues about the Alberni Valley to discuss. So I’ll leave it there for mow.