Eagle Walz is a man on a mission. He’s walking briskly along a moss blanketed portion of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast Trail, headed for its southernmost cabin at Fairview Bay, eager to show off the ocean views there and share a slice of the region’s history while he’s at it.
Though he’s “a hair south of 70,” the retired elementary school teacher seems more like an active and enthusiastic 20-year-old — especially when he talks about the trail, which winds 180 kilometres through a stunning swath of coastline, from Sarah Point on Desolation Sound in the north to Saltery Bay on Jervis Inlet in the south, and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017. “We see the benefits to the environment, plant or animal,” he says. “And we see how the community has become familiar with a backcountry they did not know before.”
Walz was 16 when his family immigrated to Canada from Germany, settling on the rugged Sunshine Coast in the remote mill town of Powell River. There, he watched with increasing alarm as forests disappeared to logging. “It sparked something in me,” he says.
Walz had the brainwave of building a long-distance hiking trail that would link remaining stands of old-growth forest. In 1992, he and a handful of like-minded conservationists founded the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (known as PAWS) and began clearing trails and building overnight huts along waterways, atop forested ridges (whose 1,000- to 1,300- metre elevation makes them too high for logging) and through protected old-growth management areas. By 2000 — after years of talks with the provincial government and forestry companies — the trail was completely established.
Today, it’s the longest hut-to-hut trail in Canada and a world-class destination for hikers. They come for the 10- to 14-day trek, warming their feet in the 14 huts that dot the trail, passing through spectacular mountain ranges and thick forests of Douglas fi r, hemlock, alder and maple, and by creeks and rivers, looking for a rich array of flora and fauna that includes orchids, arbutus trees, tiger lilies, black bears, coyotes, elk, deer, dolphins, sea lions, killer whales and, of course, Walz’s namesake bird, which circles the skies, watching over the trail just as its founder does. “I love it here,” says Walz. “It’s where I feel at home.”
Here’s a map of seven can’t-miss spots on the trail, as suggested by Eagle Walz, the route’s co-founder.
This story was first published in the March 2017 issue of Canadian Geographic Travel.