I'm happy to announce the release of Wild Places, my ninth book/title (it's tough to quantify that, as two are atlases, so some might not consider them books). It is an announcement literally years in the making, as production has been delayed over several years. Little things like covid kept cropping up to push it back. Go figure.
It is published by Fitzhenry Whiteside of Toronto under the Whitecap Books label. Whitecap Books of Vancouver was my original publisher for the Wild Coast series of coastal guide books, but that company since went bankrupt and were purchased by Fitzhenry. Which explains why a west coast title is now originating from Toronto.
But I digress! The book itself is my testimony to the greatness of Vancouver Island. I recently gave a Zoom talk on the subject of the Central Coast of British Columbia, and decided to put my experiences not in the form of a travelogue but instead in a chronology of the impact the British Columbia coast has had on my life and my outlook. I think the audience was probably a bit befuddled as I started the talk showing a newspaper article I wrote back in 1986 for the Winnipeg Free Press about kayaking, and how I did so without any interest whatsoever in getting inside one, in trying it out or exploring it as a form of recreation. The point being I wasn't inherently drawn to travel by paddle. It was the environment here that instilled that love in me as the best possible way to explore our coastal treasures.
This new book, of course, is less about the coast and more what you can do on land. It touches not only on the brilliantly wonderful locations you can explore, but on the locations you can't and the reasons for that. Yes, I did have a back-pocket motive. While guide books are generally considered exploitive by promoting locations so everyone visits, putting the very attraction at risk from congestion, I take a different viewpoint. The biggest danger to natural places is ignorance. The more out of mind, the less impactful to the general public on the destructive exploitation of these location. This is evident all across Vancouver Island, where as a guide book writer I was hard-pressed to name attractions in entire regions as the majority of it has been logged. Whatever natural wonders existed have long been bulldozed away.
Meanwhile, groups like the Ancient Forest Alliance are scouring the backcountry of Vancouver Island to find the remaining gems. And they have done an amazing job, one being Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew. The discovery prompted the protection of a remarkable stand of ancient trees and also created a tourism boost for Port Renfrew through the promotion of the trees, showing that indeed conservation and outdoor recreation in combination can have a positive impact not only for the environment but for the economy.
The fight isn't over, of course. There is a chance to maintain a contiguous valley of old-growth forest in the Walbran, an area that is in jeopardy of being logged. My hope with this guide book is you might consider visiting the Walbran Valley and experience the incredible beauty of the natural places in contrast to the stark devastation of the logged areas, and think enough to act and support efforts by groups such as the Ancient Forest Alliance. The concept is pretty simple. When old-growth is no longer contiguous, but broken by logged stands, the island's remaining old-growth becomes a series of isolated islands where free movement of critters of all types is impacted. We now know that even trees communicate with one another through their root systems in a complex but meaningful and beneficial way. What impact does it have when these systems are chopped into bits? We don't know. And that's the problem. We always discover the devastating consequences of our actions after the fact. Here now is a chance to ensure we have one location where the old-growth is not a pocket but an entire valley floor. Is it worth the risk for the sake of a couple of jobs and an industrial clear-cutting complex to risk that? Hopefully the answer is obvious.
The next step, of course, is ensuring the recreational use of these locations is not as impactful in replacement of industrial exploitation. That is another matter entirely, as ignorance in wild locations is evident everywhere. Garbage. Human waste. Inappropriately located fire pits. Trampling and erosion. It's a long list.
Personally, I've been working with BC Marine Trails to address this, leading a program to develop a Code of Conduct for proper etiquette on the BC coast. It goes well beyond Leave No Trace by addressing issues of particular concern to BC's coastal environment. It needs a lot of work and promotion to get it fully functional, and funding as well (we were turned down this week for a grant from the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, which was a devastating setback). But once understood and adopted by the general public, it will be the equivalent for the coastal environment as "no smoking" in hospitals is beneficial to hospital patients. It just takes some change in outlook and behaviour (can you imagine now that smoking in any public building was permitted? How bizarre. Hopefully that's how we view some of today's standard recreational habits in the future).
And so yes, I have written Wild Places to promote and get people out to some of the more offbeat and difficult-to-reach locations on Vancouver Island. Curse me if you want, but I say enjoy and cherish what is there as much as I do, then scream like hell when something threatens it. No single person will be able to scream loud enough. It takes everyone. Please be that everyone!
ps. Vancouver Island is changing, with new trails and restrictions to public access being created all the time. To keep Wild Places up to date, I'll be addressing changes in my blog as they occur as blog posts. If you are aware of any topic I covered that requires an update, let me know.
John Kimantas is owner of Wild Coast Publishing.