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 at the top of 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. See the map below taken from the Regional District’s Official Community Plan map. it is slightly modified Of the five, 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. I’m not sure 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 Google Maps calls Brand Avenue. It starts at the end of Hector Road and ends just above the Highway 4 Bridge and may have been an old rail grade.
There is an error in this map. The western part of the green section is actually privately owned. There are three small properties, one on each side of the old grade and a third at the westernmost end. The latter is owned by Mosaic Forest Management. The property next to the highway is privately owned. The Property 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. I don’t know who the owner is. Finally just before the bridge there is a smaller parcel of Island Timberlands property that also has little value for the same reason.
Brand Road is an extension of Hector Road. It is used by fishermen’s pickups who want to access Seaton Park, and by cyclists who want to avoid Highway 4 on trips back and forth to Port Alberni from the lake. But, for the most part it, seldom used. However, it could become part of a recreational corridor along the Sproat River all the way to Sproat Lake Provincial Park. The start of Hector Road runs through the Tseshaht Indian Reserve, past Arrowvale Campground, past Somass Park (another odd City Park outside the City Boundaries) before it turns left runs through some rural properties and becomes gravel, where it becomes Brand Road. It goes past an obscure trailhead to a cliff overlooking Sproat Falls. It then proceeds under the Highway 4 bridge upstream to the Ash Main bridge over the Sproat River. This bridge is condemned to vehicle traffic, but is very popular for walkers as it goes all the way past the Petroglyphs to Sproat Lake Provincial Park. From this part of the road several trails to, and along the river itself.
Clearly, there is some legwork to be done before it can be considered a Park. The owner of the private properties need to be contacted to see if any could be sold to the Regional District. Another option could be through a covenant or some other creative arrangement. Similarly, a negotiation has to take place with Mosaic. 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.