The picturesque hills and coastlines of Vancouver Island’s Pacfic Rim continues to be one of our biggest draws.
But they hide a dirty little secret that area residents are working hard to address.
Illegal dumping continues to plague Ucluelet’s backroads and frustrate local residents who will gather to clear out as much as they can on Feb. 16.
“When debris and garbage is dumped in the woods it doesn’t break down or go away, but the forest does continue to grow, making it harder to find and remove,” said Michael Lewis of Surfrider Pacific Rim. “If left, it will continue to contaminate and alter environments affecting everything from soil dwelling organisms to a curious bear out for a stroll.”
Surfrider is co-hosting a ‘Backroads Clean Up’ event alongside the Central Westcoast Forest Society on Feb. 16 to help remove the perpetually accumulating mess around Kennedy Lake.
“A lot of people may be surprised at how much is actually back there,” Lewis said adding the area is home to a diverse range of species and sensitive habitats. “Illegal dumping causes them to be exposed to dangerous pollutants and plastics at a critical development stage for our water dwelling friends…We want to empower people to take pride in the backroads and to speak up when they see this kind of behaviour in the future.”
The Central Westcoast Forest Society has been hosting clean up events around Kennedy Lake for roughly seven years. The most recent one was held in November and resulted in 7,633 kilograms of garbage being removed, according to the society’s project manager Megan Francis.
“Since then, there has been quite a bit of garbage accumulated and we’ve had quite a lot of interest from the community to host another one,” Francis said adding that, while it’s unfortunate that they’re needed so frequently, the CWFS’ Kennedy Lake cleanups have become popular community events.
“It’s really fun, surprisingly fun, and very satisfying. It’s a very big community event. Everyone is really excited and then, at the end of the day, you’ve done something really good for your local environment.”
This is the first time Surfrider has partnered with the CWFS on a backroads cleanup and both organizations are excited to be working together.
“We are really looking forward to working alongside their talented and passionate crew and learning from their combined experience,” Lewis said.
“There is just so many amazing non-profits operating in this region that the more we collaborate, the stronger we are, the more of an impact we can have, a larger audience we can reach,” Francis said. “It’s exciting to work with Surfrider because, not only are they interested in getting waste out of the backroads, but they are also really excited about doing proper waste management with what we collect.”
She said the debris being dumped in the area consists largely of household items like mattresses, kitchen appliances and televisions, but also includes the occasional car or trailer along with general waste associated with irresponsible lake users.
“We get a lot of fridges and freezers and things like that and a lot of them have chemicals and, as they break apart, all those chemicals are leaching into the water table,” she said adding discarded televisions, computers and appliances can blanket the forest floor with broken glass.
“There’s a bit of sloppy camping going on too. People camping out there and instead of taking their waste with them, leaving it.”
Lewis said preventing illegal dumping from happening has been a perpetual struggle and that Surfrider hopes to engage the clean up’s participants and community at large, in a conversation around how to prevent the unwelcome pop-up landfills from forming.
“In a perfect world people could just realize that they shouldn’t be doing this and just stop, dispose of their garbage correctly and through the correct channels,” he said.
Anyone willing to get their hands dirty cleaning up their coast can meet at the Tofino-Ucluelet junction at 11 a.m. to sign up. The event will run until 3:30 p.m and participants will be treated to a barbecue and reception hosted by Beyond the Bar and The Blue Room.
Anyone with ideas around preventing illegal dumping in the area is encouraged to email their potential solutions to Surfrider’s chapter manager Lilly Woodbury at email@example.com.