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The Outer Limits

Philip Newton

Photo: Philip Newton

For most of the past 20 years, Vancouver Island's west coast has been a magnet for environmentalists. Their clashes with the timber industry made headlines in 1993 when more than 800 protesters were arrested at Clayoquot Sound for blocking logging operations on its shores—a vast 650,000-acre tract of rain forest, half of which had been open to clear-cutting since 1955. The human blockade, one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canada's history, brought local forestry companies to their knees.

Last year, Clayoquot Sound was named a unesco Biosphere Reserve, and a kind, gentle form of ecotourism began to appear in the area. Yesterday's logging roads are today's mountain-biking trails. Trophy fishing is out; catch-and-release is in. Desolate winters have become high season for storm-watching, and campgrounds are no longer the only way to get close to nature. A handful of luxury lodges are the fortunate occupants of some of the last land open to development along the 25-mile coastline between Barkley and Clayoquot sounds. The rest belongs to Pacific Rim National Park, where thousand-year-old cedars, spruces, and hemlocks and hundreds of species of wildlife make up some of the most diverse and pristine ecosystems in the world. With a backyard like that—plus access to first-class scuba diving, kayaking, and surfing—these five lodges appeal to everyone, from spa hounds to equestrians, from idle dreamers to athletes in training. And each reflects the character of the locals who run it.

For a town whose name means "people with a safe landing place" in the Nootka language, Ucluelet (pronounced "yu-clue-let") has not received much attention during the current ecotourism boom. While its neighbor Tofino (population 1,100) is a hub of coffee shops and outfitters, Ucluelet seems downright neglected. But Roots Lodge at Reef Point, which opened two years ago, has plans to turn the tide in this sleepy town's favor. Beyond its brand recognition—the Roots chain of clothing stores is to Canadians what Banana Republic is to Americans—it hosts a monthly concert in the lodge's warehouse-like lobby, featuring Canadian acts like Soul Decision and Grapes of Wrath. "Some people turn their noses up at Ucluelet—it's always been about ten years behind Tofino," says manager and avid surfer Stephen Duke. "But this lodge has helped open their eyes to the town's possibilities."

The big draw here isn't the celebrities or the scene. It's the great surfing on Florencia Bay, a couple of miles up the coast; kayaking around the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound; the He-Tin-Kis trail, a mile-long boardwalk through the rain forest, with benches overlooking the water; and the stylish lodge itself. Critics at first resented what they saw as Roots' attempt to "brand the wilderness," but so far, the resort's secluded setting hasn't been compromised by the low-key hipsters who come here—Teva-clad newlyweds, families with their dogs, sunbaked surfers—or by the architecture. Because the main lodge is on an elevated platform, and the cabins (on stilts) are connected by a raised boardwalk, even the forest floor remains intact. To be sure, all 10 cabins and 14 suites bear the mark of the owners: they're outfitted in Roots' brown leather couches, gray fleece throw pillows, and cream jersey sheets. But in keeping with the camping feel, they all have kitchenettes stocked with tin cups and dishes that seem better suited to a wienie roast than a luxury lodge.


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