September 1 marks the sixth year in operation for the Belarko Wildlife Viewing Platform in Tweedsmuir Park. It’s just one way tourists and locals alike are able to view bears in the Bella Coola Valley, an industry that has steadily increased over the past decade.
Holly Willgress and Fraser Koroluk of Kynoch Adventures are just one of many tourism operators in the Bella Coola Valley that are offering tours to view bears. Their company offers 4-5 hour river drifts starting at $150 per person or $550 for a private tour for two guests.
“There has been a huge increase in bear viewing over the years,” said Willgress. “Before the ferry cuts we used to be busier with other activities over the summer but those have gone down. However, the bear viewing has just gotten busier.”
Koroluk, whose Kynoch Adventures is a member of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of British Columbia, says that a big part of being in the business is remaining active in promoting a sustainable model in the fledgling industry.
“The Association is about 10 years old,” he said. “All three local operators are members and it helps to promote sustainable viewing, develop best practices and aids in the protection of local bear habitat.”
Tweedsmuir Lodge is also hosting a very successful bear viewing operation and also recently constructed two viewing platforms on their property. Tours at Tweedsmuir Lodge start at just under $5000 per adult for a 5-day semi-private “Grizzly Bear Safari,” which includes all meals, tours and accommodation.
“We’re having a fantastic season, we are completely sold out for this year and almost sold out for next,” said Rebecca Percy, Tweedsmuir Lodge Manager. “The grizzly bear viewing continues to be a huge draw but we are working really hard to diversify. Because our packages are so expensive, we want our guests to get the all round wildlife and nature experience, which includes everything from bear biology to salmon ecology and local fauna and flora.”
Percy said that the reason for diversification is, in part, an effort to alleviate some of the stress being placed on the grizzly bears with the increase in viewing, as well as an effort to include the rest of the environment.
“This is such a fantastic environment; there is so much more than just bears,” she said. “Our guides are learning to expand their knowledge to birds, ethnobotany and local wildlife, so we are not depending solely on bear viewing.”
The Belarko Wildlife Viewing Platform is offered free of charge through BC Parks with the intention of “improving safety for both people and bears.” As traffic on the river has increased over the years, with recreational fishing and enthusiastic bear watchers, BC Parks is encouraging the use of the Platform to alleviate the stress on wildlife and keep people safe.
The Platform is staffed from 7am – 7pm daily and is managed collaboratively by BC Parks and the Nuxalk Nation. Hosts are on duty at all times to inform visitors of the proper viewing procedures and ensure people are kept safely within the boundaries of the electric fence.
Fisheries Pool is also a popular wildlife viewing area; however, BC Parks has closed this area until further notice due to bears constantly moving through the day use area and campground. Please review the BC Parks webpage or contact the local BC Parks office to see if it is open.
The Platform is a popular place – in 2014 there were 550 bear sightings (lots of repeat bears) and 2,600 visits. The draw to see bears in their natural habitat is almost intoxicating for some people; it’s a fascination that is hard to explain.
“People are coming here because it’s the Great Bear Rainforest,” said Willgress. “Bella Coola is a magical place, but there are a lot of magical places in the world. We have something special, and that is the bear.”