With the John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project nearing completion so is the final touch ups to the surrounding Elk Falls Provincial Park.
The John Hart project required a parks boundary adjustment that will ultimately lead to a net gain to the park. Another benefit was the majestic Rotary Club-constructed Elk Falls Suspension Bridge. Since project inception, in 2007, there have been a lot of wins along the way.
“We’ve come a long way on how the John Hart project was planned, designed, and constructed,” said BC Hydro spokesperson, Stephen Watson. “Over that time we’ve worked collaboratively with BC Parks so that we could have a successful project, and BC Parks could benefit as well. Looking back, I think it’s been a big success for us and BC Parks.”
BC Hydro was required, through a Park Boundary Adjustment process, to obtain some park land to allow for access and build the project within their 250-acre site located in the middle of the Elk Falls Provincial Park. The land needed was mostly for the widening of existing access roads through the park to BC Hydro’s property. When getting approval for the boundary adjustment, Hydro committed to giving more land back to the park than taken out, which may equate to about a six- to seven-acre net gain to the size of the Elk Falls Park.
“It has been very impressive to follow this massive project so closely since inception, and along that path ensure the various components of Elk Falls Park are protected, restored or enhanced,” said BC Parks Area Supervisor, Brent Blackmun. “The end outcome is very favorable. There have been many benefits for the park, the broader Campbell River community and visiting local and international tourists.”
Those end benefits included discussions over the years between BC Hydro, BC Parks and the Campbell River Rotary Club that led to the Rotary Club’s construction of the suspension bridge at Elk Falls. Available parking was a show-stopper for the bridge proposal, as the old parking lots were too small, poorly constructed and located in the iconic old growth forests. That ultimately led to BC Hydro, given the three-year road closure across the John Hart Dam during project construction, to build a project legacy through a permanent 80-spot parking lot, that included RV and bus parking. The access road, parking lot and trail system was about a $2 million contribution. Hydro also made a funding contribution of $150,000 towards the suspension bridge construction.
The Elk Falls Day Use Area had annual visits climb from about 75,000 a year to about 200,000. The suspension bridge is a free attraction that has increased tourism.
“With the new Elk Falls permanent access and parking in place since 2013, and timed to our decommissioning of the old John Hart facilities this year, we had another commitment to BC Parks to remove the pavement in the original two parking lots within the old growth forest,” said Watson. “That work is happening now and is perhaps two weeks from completion. The final results will further protect the park’s old growth trees and the habitat they provide. The work also includes improvements to trails, relocated picnic tables and retaining emergency access.”
Hydro will also freshen up the existing parking lot, including painting new road lines. The work to remove and restore the original parking lot pavement and freshen up the new parking lot has a combined cost of about $90,000, with an additional $30,000 from BC Parks for restoration planting, trail work and monitoring.
“For years we’ve been discussing with BC Hydro what Hydro lands may be transferred over to BC Parks at Elk Falls Park as early as 2020,” said Blackmun. “Part of the land package may include the new Elk Falls parking lot, adjacent treed lands with trails and some lower reaches of the Elk Falls Canyon.”
“While the John Hart project was successful in getting a safe, reliable, environmentally-benefitting hydroelectric facility, it is also important to work with agencies and the community to mitigate the project impacts as much as possible, and where possible find mutual wins,” Watson said. “With BC Hydro and BC Parks working closely together since the very beginning, we achieved positive outcomes.”
Hydro says the old woodstave penstock corridor will eventually return to forest, and better fit within the surrounding parkland.