In the Land of the Giants – Carmanah Walbran Park

Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is one of the most incredible places I have ever been.  It is a sanctuary full of remarkable beings that humble you with their size and scale and age.  It is a place that is impossible to experience through words, or images.  You have to go and stand in the base of a 100m tall, 6m wide, 800 year old Sitka Spruce yourself and then you will know what it is to stand in awe of something.

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It is a place where there is not just one, but a forest of giants, an untouched, intact ecosystem that stretches back before all we know.  It is like being in a cathedral.  It is quiet and the trees rise above you and for a moment you could image how it must have been to have a whole coast filled with these beings.

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The park protects one of the last remaining intact coastal rainforest on Vancouver Island, including a very rare large Sitka spruce ecosystem.  After years of protest the lower Carmanah Valley was declared a provincial park in 1990, and the Walbran and upper Carmanah Valleys were added in 1995.  The park encompasses a mere 163.65km2, and yet it represents 2% of BC’s remaining old growth forest.  There is less than 9% old growth left on Vancouver Island, and less than 13% in all of BC.  Have a look at this striking visual.  Just outside the eastern border of the park there are sections of old growth that remain unprotected, and as recently as winter of 2015, new cutblocks have been established and logged.

It is a heartbreaking thing to stand in wonder at something and know in the same moment that we have almost completely destroyed it.

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Carmanah Walbran is home not only to the majestic Sitkas, but also to ancient cedars, Douglas fir, and a variety of flora and fauna.  The park’s extensive groves of spruce have a biomass (weight of plants per hectare) that is nearly twice that of a tropical forest. It is a dynamic system has developed over thousands of years and functions perfectly only because it remains undisturbed.  There is life everywhere, above and below, layer upon layer, an unseen depth of diversity.  Waist high ferns, vertical moss and deadfall that you need a ladder to climb over.  It is not a human scale; without the trails and boardwalks access would be impossible, and walking below and looking up only gives you glimpses of what is really there.

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You access the park mostly on logging roads via Cowichan Lake, and then Nitnat Lake before dropping down towards the west coast.  It is a long ride on slow roads, with logging trucks serving as a constant reminder of what is at stake, but it is absolutely worth every moment of the effort it takes it get there.

From the parking lot you descend into the valley, leave the world behind and step back in time.  Due to the delicacy of the Sitka roots and the untouched systems that are present, most of the walking trails are on wooden boardwalks over the forest floor. There are platforms and specially preserved areas along the trails to mark especially grand groves.

dsc_0597Camping is allowed in the park, out on the gravel bars along Carmanah Creek which runs down the middle of the valley.  It is a wonderful thing to pitch your tent on the side of a clear creek and sleep nestled at the edge of something so ancient and so majestic.

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It is a life changing place.  And a place that everyone needs to experience.  So often we need to see to believe, so we all must see, so that these last sanctuaries remain.

Learn more and get involved:  Ancient Forest Alliance.  The Wilderness Committee.

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