Pacific Rim National Park: The Shorepine Bog Trail
by Sean McGarrol, Tofino
The Shorepine Bog trail may be one of the easiest trails in the Pacific Rim National Park, but that doesn't change the fact that it is easily one of the most interesting.
It's entirely made up of a flat boardwalk, there are no stairs, gullies or mud patches to contend with; it's wheelchair accessible and the loop is less than 1km so it only takes about 20 minutes to complete. There may not be any giant moss-draped cedars towering out of lush green forest, no sounds of crashing surf on beaches littered with driftwood; instead, its appeal lies in its uniqueness. It exists in stark contrast to the thick rainforests and coastal seascapes that surround it, and that is what makes it one of the most fascinating ecosystems in the park.
The boardwalk trail takes you around a mossy world where stunted, gnarled trees grow like stalks of broccoli on an otherwise barren landscape. They look like overgrown Bonzai trees: shriveled, deprived, but exuding a weathered sense of nobility.
The bog's unique vegetation is due to acidic soil caused by water gathering in a geological depression. Nutrients are in short supply and therefore the bog can only support certain types of growth.
The short boardwalk trail begins at the parking lot on Wickaninnish Road. At the trailhead there are interpretive brochures that explain the ecosystem corresponding with numbered stops along the path. The brochure explains that bogs like this are the most poorly-drained ecosystems in the park. About 300 cm of rain falls in the bog annually and the water collects in depressions like the one along the Shorepine Bog trail. In the wettest areas Sphagnum moss grows which changes rain water into an acid that retards decay and deprives many species of adequate nutrition.
The most obvious members of the bog's ecosystem are the stunted shorepine that look more like mutant vegetables than trees over 300-years-old. The roots of the shorepine have an extremely hard time absorbing the few nutrients and minerals available in the acidic, waterlogged soil, which ultimately results in stunted growth and malformed limbs. The lack of minerals inhibits the trees' upward growth and causes them to branch sideways.
The same species of tree grows tall and straight on the well-drained soils of interior British Columbia. It's known as lodgepole pine and grows up to 30 metres high. In bogs throughout the park, however, they normally don't grow any taller than 5 metres.
In addition to the shorepine, the bog is also home to many other plants that reflect the harsh conditions of the environment. Many are so resilient they also thrive in frozen, snowy sub-alpine regions. Yellow Cedar, Crowberry, Labrador Tea, Bog Laurel, and Evergreen Huckleberry can be found in abundance throughout the bog.
A number of the plants found growing in the bog were used for a variety of purposes by early Nuu-chah-nulth peoples; Sedge was used to weave fine baskets, Huckleberry bore a late-season fruit, and Labrador Tea provided a flavourful drink.
The one constant in the bog is the sphagnum moss that covers the area. It's a multicoloured carpet that keeps the wet soil constantly acidic and stunts the growth of all the plants in the bog.
The bog is a delicate environment that exists in a complex balance; straying from the boardwalk can undo years of development so hikers are asked to keep to the trail. The wooden boardwalk rests on top of the bog's surface, no supporting posts were driven into the sphagnum and park officials strive to keep human impact on the bog at a minimum.
The trail is located about 16km south of Tofino. On the Pacific Rim Highway turn at the Wickaninnish turn-off and continue for about 2 kms until you see the sign for the Shorepine Bog trail. The trail is an easy loop 1km long and takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Sean McCarroll is an outdoor and travel writer from Nova Scotia.
The Shoreline Bog Trail in the Pacific Rim National Park is one of the easiest and most interesting trails in the park. The twenty minute loop is made up of a flat boardwalk and is wheelchair accessible.