Taking over management of Maquinna Marine Provincial Park has had its rewards and challenges for Ahousaht First Nation.
The nation has seen added employment, growth in expertise in park operations, and direct stewardship over a wider area in its traditional territory. On the other hand, there are two surprisingly complicated composting toilets.
“They come with a thick manual,” laughed Tara Atleo, the chief executive officer of Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society, the economic development arm of Ahousaht First Nation. “Taking over the park has been a big challenge. There is so much to learn, but our Guardians have done very well.”
Ahousaht is winding down its first season of managing and maintaining the remote and rugged marine park in Clayoquot Sound, which draws thousands of tourists per year to its old-growth forest and picturesque hot mineral pools at Hot Springs Cove.
Ahousaht has a 10-year contract with BC Parks to manage and maintain the 2,600-hectare park and hot springs. From mid-April until mid-October, Ahousaht has a caretaker on site 24 hours per day, which has transitioned to periodic checks in the off season. Staff collect visitor and dock moorage fees, keep the park tidy and maintain infrastructure, such as the two-kilometre boardwalk and compostable toilets.
Atleo says the contract has generated pride in the community, and opportunities for its members to grow their skills at trail building, park maintenance, and engaging with visitors from around the world.
“People were excited. It was another opportunity for continued stewardship over our territories,” Atleo says. “When people come to Hot Springs Cove, they see us. Having our Guardians in force means a lot in terms of moving forward as an organization and a community.”
Ahousaht has worked closely with BC Parks in the past, notably on the Wildside Trail on Flores Island, home to Ahousaht’s main community of Maaqtusiis (Mach-tah-sees). Management of Maquinna Marine Park adds to Ahousaht’s eco-tourism ventures, which now include Lone Cone Campground and Hostel, Aauuknuk (Ah-ook-nuk) Lodge, Wildside Trail, and water taxi services.
Atleo says they’ll explore adding low-impact camping and tourism services adjacent to Maquinna Marine Park, in future seasons. This season was about focusing on ensuring staff are properly trained, in place and maintaining the park’s high quality.
Maquinna Marine Park is on a section of coast only accessible by boat or floatplane and shipping in personnel and supplies is expensive and time consuming. Lone caretakers are rotated in and out of the park every four days, but Ahousaht is looking at how shifts can be extended to longer periods, and staff accommodation improved.
“We’re learning the BC Parks process for repairs and getting approvals, on finding the right people to work on the infrastructure such as the high-tech composting toilets,” Atleo says. “But working with BC Parks on this park operator agreement has been great. They are open to answering questions on anything at any time.”
Maquinna Marine Park caretakers are drawn from the Ahousaht Stewardship Guardian program, which has a boat for patrols of their territory and staff trained in environmental stewardship. “It was a natural fit for the guardian program to take over operations at Hot Springs Cove. They’ve got the technical expertise for maintenance such as trail building, and have experience interacting with visitors all over the territories,” Atleo says.
Ahousaht and BC Parks developed their management contact around the same time as the B.C.-Ahousaht Protocol, signed in July, 2016. The protocol includes commitments to explore sustainable economic development opportunities in the Ahousaht community, and Maquinna Marine Park has become a topic of discussion at their working group meetings.
“We have a very well-functioning government-to-government group to implement the protocol. The group is productive and eager to move things forward,” Atleo says.
Hot Springs Cove has seen a steady stream of visitors this year, and feedback on the change in management has been positive. Atleo says the community is eager to take on additional projects with BC Parks, such as the replacing the boardwalk at Maquinna Marine Park and developing another wilderness trail connecting to Strathcona Provincial Park.
“Over the long term we would like to work with BC Parks on other opportunities. Our ultimate goal is sustainable employment opportunities and continued, demonstrated stewardship over our entire territory. Any chance we get to manage existing operations in the territories such as this, we’ll jump on it.”