A 2017 tragedy closed the unique rail logging operation that served as the hearbeat of Woss of years.
But now North Island residents are hopeful a new signature community asset can rise from the remnants of the historic rail line.
In June, Western Forest Products announced it would begin decommissioning of the 90-kilometre long Englewood Railway line this summer, a job expected to take 12 to 14 months to complete.
And that has regional tourism officials and operators wonder if there is an opportunity to work with ‘Namgis First Nations, to create a world-class hiking and mountain bike trail.
Kristie Eccleston and Cheryl Jorgenson, co-chairs of the Port McNeill Tourism Advisory Committee feel a multi-use trail, replacing the Englewood railroad would, “bring about more recreational choices to the local community and also draw more tourism opportunities to the area.”
“Of course, liability, safety and maintenance will be issues needing to be addressed,” Eccleston cautioned.
However, she was hopeful that with cooperation between ‘Namgis, municipalities, the regional district and other levels of government that: “We can find a way to make it work and see the creation of a trail that many can enjoy.”
The line — the last functioning rail logging operation in B.C. — ceased operating in the wake of an April 2017 derailment that killed three workers and injured two more.
WFP confirmed that while tracks and ties will be taken up, existing bridges and trestles will not be removed, and the rail bed will be graded to allow their trucks and equipment to pick up and remove the ties, hardware and rail.
WFP spokesperson, Babita Khunkhun went on to explain that, “any exploration of trail concept would be in collaboration with ‘Namgis on whose traditional territory the rail bed is located.”
The Regional District of Mound Waddington sees this decommissioned line as the region’s opportunity to create something similar to the successful Kettle Valley Railway trail in the Okanagan.
“If the ‘Namgis are interested, the regional district would help in anyway it could,” Pat English, Manager of Economic Development for the RDMW said. “We want to be part of the solution.”
Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom feels the benefits of a trail of this nature could offer an excellent opportunity to collaborate with the ‘Namgis to make a world class hiking trail that would draw people to the area.
Bruce McMorran of the Paddlers Inn certainly was intrigued.
“The rail line represents existing infrastructure, a heritage piece that could now be repurposed and used to support the growing importance of tourism to the North Island economy.”
Research conducted on behalf of Vancouver Island North Tourism indicates that more than 70 per cent of those visiting the region are looking to experience parks and trails with nearly 50 per cent specifying hiking as their primary reason for visiting the area.
– Bill McQuarrie article