The Metlakatla Wilderness Trail was given a grand opening ceremony in Metlakatla Village last Friday.
The ceremony was held at the trailhead located at the north end of the village and was attended by representatives of many organizations and businesses. Many were from organizations involved in funding the construction of the trail, such as Ridley Terminals Inc, Metlakatla development Corporation, the Coast Sustainability Trust, BC Construction Association and Community Futures.
Elders from the village blessed the trail after a short prayer by laying cedar branches at the beginning of the new trail. They then cut a ribbon made of woven cedar to officially open it.
The trail has been a project three years in the making, and cost about $800,000 to build, much of that contributed by a couple different organizations.
The trail is about 10 kilometers and runs through the forest up the west coast of the Tsimshian Peninsula. After the ceremony was over, the representatives were given the first guided tour of the trail, which the Metlakatla Band and BC Tourism hope will the first of many.
The trail weaves through the incredibly tall, mostly branchless trees that make up the forest around the village. The winding trail has literally been cut through the ancient forest and follows the coastline and crosses inlets, streams, marshes with the use of boardwalks and three metal suspension bridges. Culturally modified cedar trees can be seen along the trail, some of them very new and some very old.
The trail also includes two lookout towers connected together by a suspended walkway for people to climb up and take in the coastal scenery. The man who designed them and the bridges, John Kelston, has also designed walkways used in Nigerian mangrove swamps – they apparently have a lot of snakes.
The trail also contains access to remote sandy beaches, has a picnic area and even a campsite that has been reviewed by an ecologist and avid camper the band invited to come and try it out, then give them feedback
It took a crew of thirteen people a year to build the Metlakatla Wilderness Trail. During that year they had to deal with everything from wildlife stealing their lunches to raising towers and suspension bridges during the middle of winter. The entire project has been completely accident free.
The trail they made is only wide enough for people to walk along single file but is fairly flat and well put together. But according to Cory Stephens from the Metlakatla Band who has been overseeing the project, the trail will cost about $50,000 a year to maintain which will likely mean year-round jobs for two village residents.
They plan to come up with that money by selling tickets and season passes at a kiosk here in Prince Rupert in the near future. The pricing structure of this hasn’t been worked out yet, but the hope is that the trail will become a popular day-trip for both residents and tourists. The trail is just long enough that someone could come to Metlakatla on the 8:00 am ferry from Prince Rupert and finish it in time to catch the 4:00 pm ferry back.
The trail will be open for the public in about three weeks, and the band is hoping to have guided tours available and information about the ecology and Metlakatla culture along the trail (that’s still in the works.)
The long-term vision for the trail is that it might be expanded so that it ran along the coast all the way north to Port Simpson, 25 kilometers away. This would make the trail a bigger tourist attraction and establish walking access between the two communities.