The largest waves to hit the West Coast in recent memory hammered Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail last week smashing viewing decks, destroying bridges and sending benches flying.
“Waves picked up benches weighing close to 1,000 pounds and flung them 50 feet,” the Wild Pacific Trail Society’s President Barbara Schramm told the Westerly News on Monday. “These waves shifted decks that are the size of a small house.”
She said various sections of the trail are now inaccessible and that the heaviest damage was done to the northern area around the trail’s Artists Loops section.
“It was repeatedly struck over many hours. It wasn’t just one wave. It was a continuous process,” she said. “We really do need the public to pay attention to the closed sections. They think, ‘Oh well, it’s no big deal, but they’ll encounter having to wade through a creek.”
She added the trail’s Lighthouse Loop section, which features the popular Amphitrite Lighthouse, was also affected.
“To the north of the lighthouse, there’s huge bites out of the trail,” she said. “There’s some viewpoints that will be closed for the foreseeable future because you won’t even know they were there.”
Schramm said the society is currently assessing the damage and putting a strategy together for repairs.
“There’s also sections inaccessible by equipment, which makes it a lot harder,” she said. “We’re looking at hand-work. These places are inaccessible. You can’t bring an excavator in and pick up a deck.”
“What’s amazing is that he constructed these so strong that they didn’t fly apart. They just got shifted off their foundations,” she said. “Imagine something strong enough to shift these massive decks, but they were so over-engineered that they stayed in one piece.”
The repair costs are currently unknown, though Schramm noted, “It cost tens of thousands to put it in, so that’s what we need to put it back.”
“We don’t have the money it’s going to take to replace these bridges and decks. It took 20 years to build what’s out there with a slow trickle of donations,” she said. “We’re reliant on donations. This is not a taxpayer’s burden.”
Donations can be made through the trail’s website or Facebook page.
“Small amounts from a lot of people would go a long way,” Schramm said adding the trail is an important local feature to support. “There’s nothing like it in the world and it’s worth rebuilding what was damaged.”
While the waves roared through, many locals and visitors descended on the trail to experience the ocean’s power and Schramm was happy to see Ucluelet’s district office working diligently to ensure stormwatchers stayed safe.
“The district showed up all hands on deck and physically prevented people from hurting themselves. They were amazing,” she said. “Everyone did their jobs really, really, well.”
She said tourists continue flocking to the trail, particularly around the lighthouse, and she urges locals to spread the word about being CoastSmart.
“We’ve now become famous as storm-central,” she said. “We’re being flooded with people wanting to see these waves and my personal fear is that they will put themselves in harm’s way. They’ll go out beyond the trails and get themselves killed.”
Anyone heading out to the trail must stay away from rocks and closed areas.
“A wave weighs a tonne per cubic metre,” Schramm said. “People think they’re just going to get a little wet. Would they stand in front of a semi-truck barrelling at them at 60 miles per hour? Of course not. But, that’s what a wave is. They don’t get that sense of fear that they should…A wave that can shatter a house shouldn’t be played with.”
Schramm has lived in Ucluelet for about 30 years and said she’d never seen anything like Thursday and Friday’s storms.
“I think this is an extraordinary event, but, with climate change, we can’t rule out that this becomes more frequent,” she said.