Gwaii Haanas is set for another lively season after hosting a record number of travellers last year.
“We’re doing really well,” says Tamara Davidson, visitor experience manager.
Over 2,800 people visited Gwaii Haanas in 2016 — up from about 1,800 in 2011 — and most came long before Prince William and Princess Kate made global headlines last September by canoeing to meet Haida leaders at the Kay Centre and fishing for salmon with Skidegate youth.
Admission to Gwaii Haanas will also be free this year, thanks to Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
But even in what may well be another record-setting season, Gwaii Haanas will never have more than 300 people at any one time, or more than a dozen people at a single site.
“That really does help with the connection to the place,” said Davidson, not to mention preserving the ecology and Haida heritage sites.
Most visitors are B.C. residents 45 and older, and they tend to travel in guided groups — Gwaii Haanas had 2,235 guided and 565 independent travellers last year.
Among those without guides, more explore Gwaii Haanas by sailboat than by kayak or motor boat.
“The number one thing we hear is that Gwaii Haanas is on their ‘bucket list’ — it’s a place they’ve always wanted to visit,” said Davidson.
“They really want this whole wilderness experience, and to learn about the culture and the ecosystems.”
Except for Haidas, all visitors must take an orientation workshop before they go. For the first time, Gwaii Haanas staff will run some of those workshops off-island, with one in Vancouver on March 10 and another in Sidney on March 11.
Reservations can also be made year-round now, rather than having to wait until April 1.
Davidson said last year Gwaii Haanas also saw record numbers of people join “front country” activities like the Spirit Lake Trail and tidal walks by the Kay Centre.
On June 25, when the tides are extra low, she hopes plenty of local families will join visitors for a Haida Gwaii wildlife count — by teaming up with local biologists and using a wildlife smartphone app or good old-fashioned binoculars, they will try and identify as many different wildlife species as they can in a single day.
“It’s really neat,” Davidson said of the smartphone and tablet app they will use. “You can take a photo, even of a plant, put it up on the app and say, ‘I don’t know what this is, does anyone have an idea?’”
“And then anyone connected can say, ‘Oh, that’s Fox Glove, or Devil’s Club, and here’s what it’s used for.”
Even in a wintery week when the islands saw another dash of snow and hail, staff were getting started on two new projects in Gwaii Haanas — new pools on Hotspring Island, plus a new hiking trail on Lyell Island that will start at the site of the 1980s protest that led to Gwaii Haanas’ creation, and end by the old-growth forest and Legacy Pole by Windy Bay.