At a time when tourist traffic to B.C.’s west coast would normally slow to a trickle, Tofino and Ucluelet’s streets and beaches are still busy and both resort communities are preparing for the wave of unanticipated COVID-19 visitors to continue through the fall.
Tofino was forced to crack down on illegal campers and partiers this summer after its pristine coastline was scarred by a few scofflaws who left piles of garbage, including human waste, behind.
Now the surfing mecca is partnering with its neighbour on a campaign to remind tourists to obey public health orders and respect the environment.
“It’s just craziness out there right now,” Ucluelet resident Alexis Van Houtte told Global News.
The 25-year-old, who was born and raised in Ucluelet says, she was shocked and disgusted to see one of the logging roads outside of town jam-packed with dozens of parked vehicles, campfires, and a crowd of some 40 people late last month.
“I’ve never seen something like that before,” said Van Houtte.
“There’s a lot more entitlement to be out here right now when everything is so crazy still, and we still have the threat of COVID.”
Ucluelet’s mayor said it’s no secret a small number of visitors is setting up camp on back roads where there are no facilities, with some even holding large parties — including “borderline raves” — in the wilderness.
But with very limited policing and first responder resources, Mayco Noël said the chaos is hard to control.
“It’s frustrating for us as residents and as the elected officials because we have no jurisdiction over those back roads,” Noël told Global News.
“But we know what’s going on, the province knows what’s going on, forest service knows what’s going on, and there’s still yet no visible enforcement.”
With a flood of tourists expected through October, signage is being installed at the Ucluelet Highway 4 junction and the Tofino Visitor Centre reminding everyone to “Show Your Love for the West Coast.”
The joint push from Tofino and Ucluelet is intended send a message that COVID-19 doesn’t go on vacation even in beach destinations.
Visitors are urged to wear masks when physical distancing cannot be maintained, and to respect the land and its indigenous history.
“It’s built on thousands of years of stewarding by Tla-o-qui-aht and other Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations’ people that have been here before us,” said Tofino mayor Josie Osborne.
Camping in RVs, trailers, vans or tents is not allowed in parking lots, beaches, residential streets or any other public spaces and both districts say violators will be ticketed. Reservations for all accommodations, including camping, are also required until at least the end of October.
“If you think you’re going to go grab your tent and find a little chunk of land here that’s not legal, we’re all going to have a problem with it,” said Noël.
“I would never personally go into someone else’s town and just do something like that,” added Van Houtte.
“It just shocks me.”