Published in the North Island Eagle, October 2017
By Trish Weatherall
Learn about the North Island’s diverse rainforest ecosystem on a local trail with a full 1 km loop that can be walked in under an hour, or a quick half-kilometre loop.
Great for newcomers, beginning hikers, and children, the Beaver Lake Forest Trail was a collaboration between Western Forest Products and the provincial Ministry of Forests that demonstrates the changing forest through interpretative signage as you walk through a dense reforested clear-cut, a new managed forest, and magnificent old growth.
The trail is located less than half an hour away from Port Alice, Port Hardy, and Port McNeill near the junction of Highways 30 and 19. Turn into a small gravel parking lot off Highway 30 across from Beaver Lake. Start at the map legend in the parking lot to determine your route. Enter the narrow pathway through a dense young forest of Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, and Shore Pine for a few hundred metres leading to a picnic/education shelter and a viewpoint overlooking a ravine. The longer route has log steps leading down into the valley through old growth forest and bridges crossing a creek.
Interpretive signage throughout the trail provides graphics and descriptions of the surrounding foliage and forestry initiatives.
They describe how Western Hemlock, the most common tree in the coastal rainforest, is used for quality lumber, clear wooden trim, and pulping fibre. In 70 years, one hectare of the Hemlock-Balsam forest produces enough trees to build more than 20 average Canadian houses. And they tell how BC’s official tree, the Western Red Cedar, commonly grow to 50 metres high and four metres in diameter, and can be identified by its fluted base and stringy bark. Local indigenous peoples used the fibrous inner bark to make clothing and baskets, and the wood for houses, totem poles, masks, and canoes.
The ground cover under this great coniferous canopy includes salal (which can grow up to 3 metres in height), deer fern, and bunchberry. Fallen nurse logs provide a rich ecosystem for growth of new trees and fungi. Fungi are the silent workers that assist in the process of decay and hasten the recycling of nutrients to living trees and plants.
The information signage also tells the history of the growth. A series of hurricanes that struck North Vancouver Island from 1902 to 1906 levelled more than 160 square kilometres of forest. The upended roots aerated the soil and the large openings in the forest canopy allowed more light to reach the forest floor and promote new growth.
The current young forest area was clear-cut in 1971, burned in a fire shortly after, and reforested naturally from seed produced by nearby mature trees at about 15,000 trees per hectare. The area of managed forest has been thinned out by a silviculture crew using chainsaws to reduce the number of trees to 850 per hectare. Forestry initiatives like pruning and thinning (juvenile spacing) encourage the development of larger trees and knot-free lumber.
Take a short day-trip to this little trail to immerse yourself in the natural beauty and process of your local forests.