The Koksilah Hike
"If you like what you see, write a letter”: this was the way the Koksilah hike started, “Write a letter”, Ms. Richardson says, “Because they’re cutting it all down”. Before we even reach the parking lot, we are looking, and liking what we see: a forest of trees, dark green and orange and yellow, dry leaves collecting in piles by the side of the road – the scar of last year’s clear cut hidden behind the shape of the land. This Sunday, a small group of students piled into a van and took the drive to the Koksilah River and the surrounding forest in celebration of Ms. Richardson’s birthday, as well as the continuing existence of a stand of old growth trees in the precarious position of growing on land owned by a logging company.
This part of Koksilah is unprotected, no formal plans were put into place after Timberwest, the logging company which owns the land, designated the area as a forest reserve. The only reason the stand of old-growth hasn’t been felled and turned into reams of toilet paper yet is because of individuals’ insistence that there is something remarkable about these trees. Upon reaching the area in the 1980s, two loggers put down their chainsaws and refused to destroy the stand. When renewed interest was shown in logging the old-growth, local activist Warrick Whitehead led the effort to postpone the logging process and urged the government to buy the land in order to set up formal protection. The BEAT, led by Ms. Richardson, through their interest in the area and hiking through it, continues to prove the fact that the incredible stand deserves publicity and protection.
The beginning of the trail is nothing special; it looks like no more than a small, sloping access road, barred with an orange gate which has rusted shut. The path is worn around one of the posts, and leads onto a muddy trail scored heavily with the tracks of dirt bikes and ATVs. The trees have thin trunks, and the ground is plastered with wet yellow leaves. The blue trail markers are one of the only indications that you are heading in the right direction towards the stand of old growth Douglas Firs that this area of the forest is renowned for. Another give-away however, is the bright pink sashes hacked into certain trees – Timberwest’s reminder that these trees, as their legal property, are condemned. As you count up the pink marks in a harsh line of punctuation along the trail, it’s clear only from the number of them that something valuable to the forest industry is just ahead.
And the industry is right, there is something remarkable about this forest, though not remarkable in the classical logging sense (accompanied with the sound of a chainsaw revving and trucks straining with a full load of shorn trees). The best part of the hike, the most valuable part of it, emerges around thirty five minutes in. Past an area once cleared as a logging road, the empty space now filled with a stand of skinny, papery-white trunks and yellowing leaves, Mr. Norman tells us to take off our shoes.
We walk into the stand barefoot, sweaty socks balled up in hand. It feels like we’re walking on a very thick, very wet carpet; dirt has never felt this spongy, or alive. The truly incredible part however, the part for which we’ve walked thirty minutes, drove from Mill Bay and given up four hours of our Sunday, is the trees. They are like columns holding up some incredible structure, their bark is thick and craggy, like corrugated sheet metal. Beneath them, we feel incredibly, incredibly small. They are absolutely massive, ranging from four to six feet in diameter, the largest ones over eight feet wide. Fallen logs give you an idea of the ranges of height, as the trunks continue into the undergrowth until it is impossible see the beginning of their splintered, upturned roots.
Only one percent of old-growth Douglas Fir still exists on Vancouver Island, and the experience of being able to walk among the trees barefoot instead of on a boardwalk is one that is not common. Ms. Richardson and the BEAT have been spreading the word about this stand of trees, not only because of its magnificence, but also because of its non-permanence. Halfway along the trail, Mr. Norman gestures to a marking on a tree; “Someday soon, there could be a road, right through here”. Not one of us can imagine this stretch of forest, quiet and dark, smothered in asphalt and the noise of engines. We like what we can see – it is a place that not many people have had the opportunity to explore. However, the only way to keep it the way it is, immensely ceilinged, like the inside of a cathedral, is to spread the word. If you have like what you’ve read, you will like what you will see in Koksilah: a stand of trees older than anyone alive today, on the brink of being lost for good.
< Dancing for Amelie