A Vancouver Island man is hiking to raise money and awareness about threatened old-growth forest ecosystems.
Caleb Harding has already raised $500 and hiked more than 106 km since starting the challenge at the end of June.
“I was blown away when I met my fundraising goal. And because I have so much time left and still have a lot of kilometres to hike, I’m actually going to up it,” said Harding, who grew up in Nanaimo, but currently divides his time between Sooke and Tofino. “I’m going to double it and hopefully make it by the end of the fundraiser.”
The 26-year-old is taking part in a challenge hosted by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), an organization dedicated to ensuring people in North America can continue fishing and hunting in natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands.
He said he is concerned about many of the island’s old-growth forests and watersheds, some of which remain unprotected.
“I hike fairly regularly and being laid off due to COVID, I’ve had the opportunity to really complete some goals that have been in the back of my mind for years,” he said, adding one of the highlights of the challenge so far was a difficult three-day solo hike on the Juan de Fuca Trail.
Harding spent a cold night in his tent after some unexpected heavy rain on the second day of the hike, which drenched his sleeping bag and extra clothes.
“It was actually kind of touch and go there for a bit. I had to figure out a way to get dry and I had all the materials to start a fire, but I didn’t have any firewood down there,” he said. “Luckily enough, after enough time your body heat warms everything up and dries you off. That was definitely the hardest part, just dealing with the rain.”
Steve Nikirk is a founding member of the Vancouver Island chapter of BHA and has hiked 163 km, so far raising $395 of his $1,000 goal.
The hikers will not have direct control over where the fundraising money goes because it goes to BHA, according to Harding.
“It goes to the organization, but we do have some main issues that we’re really passionate about. One of the main issues is access and on Vancouver Island there is a lot of access issues,” said Harding. “Another one is just keeping ecosystems intact, access aside, making sure those areas are being protected in a sensible way, without too much development or too much resource extraction.”
“It’s going back towards a lot of these boots on the ground things,” said Harding.
BHA and the Parksville Rotary Club teamed up last November to remove over six tonnes of garbage from Little Mountain by bagging it in 1 tonne fertilizer bags. Kestrel Helicopters assisted by lifting the bags out of the area.
“As you probably know, the Rotarians are a bit geriatric in the demographic end of things. We’re pretty long in the tooth, most of us, so having some strapping young hunters and anglers was great to have them join us,” said Bill Rawlins, president elect of the Parksville Rotarians.
The idea for the partnership came when Rawlins ran into Nikirk, a former student, at a soccer tournament. Nikirk said he wanted his chapter of BHA to help with the Rotarian’s cleanup operation on Little Mountain.
The site has been covered with tonnes of refuse for decades, according to Nikirk.
“There’s washing machines, there’s dishwashers, a hot tub. They lifted out a Volkswagen already – looks like a Beetle. There was a truck down there. Hundreds and hundreds of TVs and stereos. You name it, it’s down there,” he said.
The area is just one of many ecosystems on Vancouver Island that is under threat, according to Harding.
“Over time you definitely start to see that some places have been treated better than others and some have been treated terribly — like Little Mountain, for example,” he said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a third cleanup date was cancelled. The effort has been rescheduled for July 26 and Aug. 22, beginning at 9:45 am. Volunteers will meet at the end of Bellevue Road in Errington.