Howe Sound was appropriately filled with dozens of windsurfers, Squamish Nation canoes, kayaks, parasailers and sailboats for the launch of the Sea to Sky Marine Trail at the Squamish Oceanfront on Sunday, June 14.
The 40-km marine trail stretches from Squamish to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, and will be the only saltwater route on the Trans Canada Trail network.
The length of the often inaccessible body of water is now linked by six new rustic and rudimentary campsites, joining three existing campgrounds that are accessible via self-propelled boats.
The sites will createan opportunity for multi-day paddling and camping trips throughout Howe Sound.
The marine trail was opened by B.C.'s Lt. Governor Judith Guichon, who wasn't the only person to evoke the memory of Captain Cook and other Europeans sailing into Howe Sound in the 1790s and landing near the present-day Squamish Nation community of Stawamus.
She also noted the "rebounding of the marine ecosystem," with whales and other fauna visiting the waters, some for the first time in decades.
"What a wonderful sesquicentennial legacy," Guichon told those gathered. "We're building a trail to link this nation by 2017."
Gord McKeever, project manager of the Sea to Sky Trail, said in an interview that the marine trail was a multi-stakeholder collaboration.
"It's wonderful. It is the accumulation of five years of work. We've been going at it seriously since about 2010. It's nice to get to this point," he said. "There's been a lot of moving parts."
He said this included preparing the sites, mostly with volunteer labour, finding and securing the sites.
It is unclear how many paddlers will make use of the sites, McKeever added.
"This is all new. There is no manual to refer to, or past data. A lot of people like to kayak and this is within an hour of about three million people, so I think it might be kind of popular," he said.
McKeever said that the new camping sites were on donated Crown land.
Five campsites are on the isolated western side of Howe Sound, two are on Gambier Island and two are on the eastern side of the sound.
"The whole project cost between $125,000 and $150,000, counting the dollar value of volunteer time," he said.
Overall, they spent around $75,000 cash on the marine trail, McKeever said. This included funding from initial grants for the overall Sea to Sky Trail from the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) of $250,000, a contribution from Recreation Sites and Trails BC, and $50,000 from Trans Canada Trail.
He noted that none of the trail is on land, owing to the difficult terrain along Howe Sound.
A two-metre wide land channel was created by removing rock in the intertidal zone at each campground, he said. There are two to six spots to pitch a tent, he added.
"The campsites provide a safe landing and a place to pitch a tent, and they're beautiful settings. But there is no potable water, no toilet facilities at this point... but sea kayak campers are used to this," McKeever said.
"It's a rugged shore. It was hard finding all those sites."
McKeever has already camped at several of them.
"Each campground has its own personality. Which one do I like the best? Which kid do I like the best?" McKeever laughed.
Mick Allen of the B.C. Marine Trails Network Association was on hand as well. He said the Howe Sound marine trail is an important addition, and volunteers from his association helped in the construction of it.
"Howe Sound is one of the areas we've been looking at and we partnered up with the Trans Canada Trail and Gord McKeever... we just jumped onto his coattails and tried to assist him in every way we could to bring this to fruition," Allen said.
"Now we've got these new sites... it's a fantastic change. We we're looking at 30 more sites (on Howe Sound) at B.C. Marine Trails. We won't get all of them because there will be other competing interests... but we want to turn the southern part and the central part of Howe Sound into the same kind of camping impact."
Chief Bill Williams of the Squamish Nation said the project would help his people explore their ancient connections to Howe Sound.
"It's such an important occasion to recognize the land, to recognize the water and its connection to the land," he told those gathered.
There are still small sections of the 180-km Sea to Sky Trail that need constructing between Pemberton and Squamish.