Side Bay sunset, always an event that borders on the magical. (Mike Sheehan photo and comment)

Access to the pristine northwest Vancouver Island beach at risk

Road to remote Side Bay beach north of Brooks Peninsula could be deactivated

Side Bay is within the zone sometimes called north-Hawaii by North Island resident, minus the warm water.

It’s part of the string of hard-to-get-to sandy beaches on Vancouver Island’s northwest coast, deeply appreciated for their beauty and solitude. Because they’re hard to get to, the average camper and beach lover doesn’t visit, leaving them less crowded than well-travelled southern beaches.

The flip side is that road maintenance can be a mixed bag.

Most routes crisscrossing the unpopulated West Coast are active logging roads that recreational users rely on. Side Bay is located between Brooks Peninsula and the mouth of Quatsino Sound, pretty much right beside Lawn Point Provincial Park and is accessible via logging road from Port Alice.

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But Side Bay is no longer an active timber harvesting area, and since it’s also not an official recreation site, the road itself is somewhat of a debate.

Roads like this can either be deactivated, reverted to “wilderness status,” or the government can take over maintenance.

After much begging by North Island/Central Coast staffers at the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), the road is on a shortlist to get a small increase in budget which will keep it maintained. The Union of B.C. Municipalities will vote on the budget this month. If approved, at least the road will be maintained to a minimum standard.

“Easier to get money to deactivate roads and remove liability and any risk to public safety than to secure dollars to rebuild for minimal use in remote areas,” said a FLNRO engineering officer who’s responsible for the area.

About 50 recreational vehicles use the Side Bay road monthly – not enough to call it high use, which would easily qualify it for maintenance funding.

The road provides access to Lawn Point Provincial Park, but BC Parks don’t provide access funding.

The location of an unofficially proposed parking lot at Side Bay. It would be an affordable alternative to fixing a rusty bridge. (Submitted image)

At present, there are two areas of concern – the Side Bay bridge and the washout at the seven-kilometre mark on Side Bay road.

The bridge was built in the 1980s, and temporarily reinforced with spruce logs over a decade ago by Interfor. According to FLNRO, the wood over-structure has begun to fail, and the original steel bridge is rusting. Ultrasonic testing suggests it should be safe for recreational use for two years, but will need to be removed or fixed eventually.

Removing the bridge would cut off car access to the beach at Side Bay – something people shouldn’t be doing anyway, the FLNRO engineering officer said. Instead, he’d like to build a parking lot on the east side of the bridge, and have campers hike down to the beach.

It would be a fraction of the cost of replacing the bridge, giving him a better chance convincing officials to approve the funding.

The hike from the parking lot to the beach would be a couple hundred metres. The washout zone, seven kilometres into Side Bay Road, has been repaired twice in as many years by FLNRO, including replacing culverts that were crushed by recreationalists driving over the wash-out area. A third repair is planned for this fall.

The FLNRO engineering officer has heard from a number of regular visitors, and understands the long-term attachment many people have to the site. He hopes that in addition to keeping FLNRO informed about the condition of the roads, that people also reach out to their MLAs, “because they are preaching to the choir with me and my office here. Maybe the added pressure will come up with additional funding.”

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