One of Vancouver Island’s most celebrated forest sites is getting a major parking lot makeover.
In response to longstanding safety concerns, the provincial government has started engineering work to improve to Cathedral Grove.
Key safety enhancements include an expanded parking lot, U-Turn facilities and a centre median barrier to stop unsafe turns and to stop pedestrians from crossing the highway. The ministry also has plans to put in a pedestrian overpass, although engineers are currently working to determine what this will look like.
Currently the highway bisects the often-busy parking area which features a long, open stretch where multiple vehicles may be trying to enter or exit at the same time from either side, and no controlled crossing for pedestrians.
“Right now there’s no actual pedestrian facility and people run willy-nilly across the road,” said Peter Webber, Transportation Planner with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Located in MacMillan Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove is an old-growth forest found along Highway 4 east of the Hump between the Qualicum area and Port Alberni. The park has become a local, national and international attraction, with roughly 500,000 visitors per year.
But as the park’s popularity has grown, so have the issues surrounding pedestrian safety and parking alongside the highway.
Webber was at the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 27 to give an update on Cathedral Grove improvements. During two rounds of engagement, the ministry received more than 1,500 responses from park users, residents and local governments with potential options to improve safety and access to Cathedral Grove. Webber said that the planning portion has now wrapped up, and the ministry is moving into engineering these safety enhancements.
“Considering what a unique area this is and some of the challenges that we have, getting that feedback and input to guide us…was really important,” said Webber. “We had a lot of support with the preferred options that we are eventually going to be moving forward.”
Previous discussion about improving the parking lot have generated a lot of concern about how that would affect the existing trees — the park’s signature asset.
Webber added that environmental work has already taken place and an engineering team is currently looking at design. Local stakeholders will be consulted once again before the actual construction takes place.
In a previous press release, the ministry stated that engineers will consider the need to balance pedestrian and vehicle safety with the protection of rare, old-growth trees.
“No old-growth trees will be removed to accommodate the proposed improvements,” the press release stated.
Webber mentioned on Wednesday that some blasting work is also being planned for Angel Rock along Highway 4 in order to widen the highway.
“The highway runs right through Little Qualicum Falls regional park, so in order to move forward with construction we have to go through an order of council to get a park boundary adjustment, which unfortunately can be a fairly lengthy process,” he added.
He estimated that it will be another one or two years before work begins on Angel Rock.
A complete engagement summary report for Cathedral Grove is available online: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/cathedralgrove.