Developers propose above-ground walkway, lookout tower at Bamberton on Malahat

Wood tower looking out to Finlayson Arm could open in 2020, developer says

The developer of the proposed wooden Malahat Skywalk at the southern end of Bamberton estimates the 40-metre-tall structure would attract about 200,000 visitors a year to gaze out at Finlayson Arm and beyond.

The basket-shaped walk was inspired by elevated forest walks in Europe.

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“We want to bring the concept of an accessible, environmentally sound and culturally significant tourism experience to Vancouver Island,” said David Greenfield, a principal in developer A. Spire by Nature, and one of the partners behind the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish.

Developers are working with the Malahat First Nation, planning to lease the site from the band and hire band members.

Malahat Coun. George Harry Jr. said in a statement that it’s a sustainable tourism experience that will provide opportunities for many generations of the Malahat Nation. “We look forward to telling the stories of our people and welcoming the visitors to our community through the Malahat Skywalk experience.”

Greenfield said a protected level walkway would ring the top of the spire.

Visitors would first travel along a 650-metre-long walkway between two and 20 metres above ground, he said. The two-to-2.7-metre-wide wooden deck would run among second-growth Douglas firs, stands of Arbutus trees and other trees.

The grade would be gentle, similar to a sidewalk, Greenfield said. Railings would be lined with fine wire mesh for safety. Interpretive stations and plenty of benches are planned.

The idea is to create a place for a casual walk, accessible to strollers and wheelchairs.

Tall logs in a tripod shape would support the rigid walkway.

Greenfield estimates it would take between 15 to 20 minutes to reach the top.

Prices have not been finalized, but the cost of an adult visit could be in the low $20s, he said. Other options, such as annual passes, would also be offered.

The tower would be built of wood, other than metal structural struts for the spire, Greenfield said.

Other possibilities include a trampoline-type canopy on the interior of the spire at the top level and a tube-style slide to the bottom, he said.

An emergency stairway would be built in the centre.

The project was designed to fit into its environment, Greenfield said. “We are creating a very natural experience here.”

Skywalks and high-altitude platforms are being developed around the world to attract tourists eager to get a thrill as they gaze out at jaw-dropping scenery.

An application to rezone the land from rural use to include recreation and adventure activity has been submitted to the Cowichan Valley Regional District. A management application has also been submitted to the province. Required consultants’ reports have been handed in as well, Greenfield said.

If all goes according to plan, construction would start sometime this fall, allowing the skywalk to open in June 2020, he said.

Greenfield and Trevor Dunn, who worked with him on the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, are principals of the Malahat Skywalk project, which includes investment from eastern Canada.

Plans call for the 168-acre Bamberton site to be leased by the band from the province. The band would then lease the property to A. Spire. B.C. earlier bought more than 500 acres that will form part of the Malahat Nation’s treaty lands once a final agreement is reached

Josh Handysides, director of economic development at Malahat Nation and Malahat Investment Corporation, said the agreement allows for training and education of band members for positions at the skywalk, as well as provision for hiring qualified band members. There are also opportunities for cultural interpretation.

A new access off the highway would only allow a right-turn in and right-turn out. It would lead to parking for about 500 vehicles, including tour buses carrying visitors from cruise ships, Greenfield said.

“We expect a lot of bus traffic would be coming to the project, so we will have to accommodate a significant amount of buses within that parking area.”

A planned welcome centre would include a ticket centre, washrooms, some retail, coffee shop and administration. A children’s playground would be nearby.

At the peak of construction, about 100 workers would be employed. Once open, the attraction would employ between 20 and 50 people, Greenfield said.

Paul Nursey, Destination Greater Victoria chief executive, was enthusiastic about the plan. “We see this new attraction being very popular to individual travellers, cruise visitors, tour operators and to meetings and incentive groups.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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