As the sun shone down, casting a glow off several pairs of golden scissors, it was the moment they – and many in the community – had all been waiting for.
The official opening of the suspension bridge above Elk Falls Canyon.
Representatives from BC Parks, BC Hydro, Campbell River Rotary Club, local government and the B.C. government, took part in the proverbial ribbon cutting ceremony Friday morning to mark the opening of the bridge, which was then opened to the public Saturday morning.
Mary Polak, the B.C. Minister of the Environment, and Jessica McDonald, president and CEO of BC Hydro, led the first group across the 60-metre high and 64-metre long suspension bridge.
While Polak was impressed with the bridge and the view of Elk Falls, she was most thankful for the accessibility of the trail down to one of two new viewing platforms.
“My mother was a paraplegic and when I grew up we very much liked outdoor experiences but nine times out of 10 we would get somewhere and dad would have to take us to the more interesting places while mom sat in the car because you just couldn’t go there,” Polak said. “To see a place like this, that has been designed with that in mind, so that people who have mobility challenges can still enjoy the natural beauty you have here, I just want to commend all of you that have been involved for putting that lens to this project.
“You have no idea what that means not just to the people who are having mobility challenges but to their family and friends who would really like to enjoy these spaces together with them.”
While the first platform and the trail leading from the new, 83-stall parking lot is wheelchair accessible, multiple stairs lead down to a second viewing platform that gives viewers a front-facing view of the falls, as well as to the suspension bridge.
Rotarian Lorrie Bewza, and project chair for the suspension bridge, said Rotary has estimated that the suspension bridge will result in 70,000 more people visiting Elk Falls each year – double the amount that currently visit the park.
He said the idea for the project was borne out of a desire to have a better view of the falls.
“In 2009 the Rotary Club of Campbell River was up walking through the park, looking for potential viewing areas to showcase Elk Falls and the canyon,” Bewza said. “When we looked at the canyon we all agreed we had to build a suspension bridge and that was met with some ‘really?’ but we worked on that and had many discussions and we proposed it to our club and they voted on making this our major project.”
Bewza said Rotary’s contributions are largely thanks to the community of Campbell River, as is stated on a plaque mounted to a rock on the trail leading to the bridge.
“The plaque states ‘This world-class suspension bridge and viewing platforms are the result of the incredible work of Rotarians, assisted by BC Parks and BC Hydro and the never-ending support and generous donations of the people of Campbell River to the annual Rotary TV Auction,’” Bewza said. “Without that, we wouldn’t have the funding.”
The project was made possible by $124,500 in funding from Campbell River Rotary Club, a federal government grant of $86,650, $325,000 from the Island Coastal Economic Trust, as well as $150,000 from BC Hydro which also shared its environmental and geo-technical reports with Rotary. Hydro also built the new Elk Falls parking lot which will be turned over to BC Parks to operate once construction on the John Hart project is complete.