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Oceanside Star

Tasty treats on Moorecroft Camp walk

As part of the Brant Festival, tour company donates hikes

Brad Bird
Oceanside Star

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The sign for Moorecroft Camp comes into view as our group approaches in the Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours van and Ronda Murdock tells us that the original owner, Gertrude Moore, sold her waterfront acreage in 1955 for $50,000.

Today the 89 acres that make up the camp are valued at about $12 million.

With us is a mix of people from Ontario, Alberta, and Vancouver Island, young and old, all keen to undertake an hour-long Intertidal Tour with Ronda and Gary Murdock, who drove us from our starting point in Parksville.

The Murdocks are donating the $20 fee per person to the Nature Trust Brant Wildlife Festival. They’re providing more than nine hours of their time and gas for free, for nine guided tours.

The weather is with us, as the sun peeps out of the clouds and the showers stop.

We pile out of the van, pull on our gumboots and head down the trail. Ronda points out Oregon grape, which produces edible fruit and which was used as a medicine by native people to treat paralytic shellfish poisoning,

Gary talks about the Douglas fir, which isn’t a true fir, we learn, but its own species. The grand fir, he says, pointing one out, is a real fir.

“What’s this, Gary?” someone says, pointing to a low shrub with alternate shiny leaves that seems to be everywhere.

“Salal,” he replies, which means “many berries” in a native tongue, and indeed the berries in summer are many and edible.

“Here’s red-flowering currant,” he says, noting it, too, has edible fruit.

It’s pleasant to be outside this day, walking on such pristine and rather holy grounds, as the United Church purchased the land in the 1950s for use as a Bible camp. For sale now, the land is likely to be purchased by the Regional District of Nanaimo.

Anyone may walk the grounds. The key is to respect them and not take anything home, including anything on the shores, says Gary. But nibbling edibles is OK.

As we come to the seashore, he bends over to pick a little sea asparagus, which he proceeds to eat, commenting on its saltiness, which others in the group quickly confirm with a nibble.

Moments later, he plucks out a piece of seaweed called Turkish towel, touting its abilities as a washcloth. You can even hang it to dry and reuse it — eat it, too, if inclined, he said.

We’re impressed. Lucy and Neil Carlton, from the Ottawa area, are two of the more outgoing participants. In their early 60s, they look fit and pleased with the tour.

So does Ed Peppler, 84, from Hanover in southern Ontario. He’s carrying a walking stick — a good idea, given the slippery rocks and uneven ground.

Next Gary reaches into the sea and pulls up a variety of succulent seaweed, which lives up to its name in taste. Again, he says, “salty but good.” I eat a good portion of this one, being a tad hungry.

Two little boys, eager to see it all, forge ahead along the point, called Vesper Point on Arab Bay, and find barnacles stuck to the rocks. Gary says these are living creatures which manufacture a glue stronger than any known human-made product.

Mr. Peppler asks about the white shells in the few inches of water — oyster shells.

Then the boys find a purple starfish, hard and rough to the touch, but very much alive, and living in what appears to be a family environment, as there are a number of them among the rocks in the shallows. The tide is out but is rushing in, and Mr. Peppler works his way back. “Don’t want to get caught,” he says.

We peer out into the Salish Sea, or Strait of Georgia, and see Gerald Island, which the province purchased in 2007 for use as a marine park, Gary tells us.

As we head back inland, one of our group, Peter Vanderbeek, minister and on-site caretaker of Moorecroft Camp, tells us how the camp children react when out on the point. Often you don’t even have to say anything for them to realize the presence of God. Creation — the sky, the sea, the rocks, the plants — says it all.

In the forest is western red cedar, the tree of life, from which native people made canoes and clothes (even diapers). It was revered in that culture. Red alders stand nearby, similar to the prairie aspen, an important food source for the resident beavers.

Just as the tour wraps up it begins to rain. Perfect timing.
Parksville Qualicum Beach News

Brant fest tours on offer

A tour to tide pools at Moorecroft Camp uncovered a Ring-Spotted doris, a kind of sea slug rarely seen. Below, one of the tours run by eco-guides Gary and Ronda Murdock.

Text By Fred Davies – Parksville Qualicum Beach News

Published: March 18, 2010 7:00 PM

The Brant Wildlife Festival continues with events planned right through to the end of April.

Key to any successes for the nature fest, now celebrating its 20th year, is a core of volunteers that include Gary and Ronda Murdock, eco-guides with Pacific Rainforest Adventure tours, based in Parksville.

Last Sunday the pair led the second of the nine tours they are donating as fundraisers to the Nature Trust and Brant Wildlife Festival.

“The $20 that people pay for the tours all goes directly back to the Brant Festival,” said Gary, who noted the assortment of tours offered give a glimpse into aspects of history and culture as well as identifying what’s what in the ecosystems explored.

“On the ride to our tide pool destination [at Nanoose Bay’s Moorecroft camp] Ronda spoke about human history, starting with the First Peoples who inhabited this land since the beginning of time. People learned about the various names of the Salish Sea and Englishman River and about the origin of the name Parksville, as well as the foresight of Mrs. Harrison and the Parksville chapter of the Women’s Institute and the role they played in our history.”

He said a highlight of that tide pool jaunt was discovery of a Ring-Spotted doris, a carnivorous gastropod that eats anemones, bryozoans and purple sponges.

“I’ve been doing this for years and never seen one,” said Gary.

“I think I was more excited than anyone else.”

The walk in the old growth Douglas fir, Arbutus, and Garry oak forest at Moorecroft also offered visual delights including Red-Flowering currant, Tall Oregon-grape and White Fawn-lily in bloom.

“As biodiversity decreases the ecosystem’s ability to function decreases as well and people don’t understand that,” said Ronda.

She added it is her hope the tours will help attendees reflect on the importance of taking real measures to protect Oceanside’s vast array of flora and fauna before it’s too late and they vanish forever.

Still to come on the Murdock’s itinerary is a tide pool tour on Tuesday, March 23, a Somass Estuary jaunt along the Alberni Inlet March 28, two more shores and tide pool tours on March 30 and April 6 and a Buds ‘n Blooms Plant Walk on April 11.

For information and to register call 250-248-3667.
* – Published: January 13th, 2010

Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours

Many thanks to Gary and Ronda Murdock of Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours ( for being so willing and keen to grant us this interview. Both Gary and Ronda are naturalists and environments who love nature with a passion. Their interest in protecting and preserving the forest led them to develop an eco tour business in the late nineties. They offer rainforest nature walks, whale watching, winery tours and beachcombing.

Q: How and when was your interest and connection to nature sparked and did you ever think it would lead you to offering forest tours?
Ronda: My interest in nature was probably sparked when I was a child. I lived in southern British Columbia where my father worked for the BC Forest Service and my mother was a stay at home Mom.

I lived on a rural property alongside Columbia Lake with 40 acres to roam and I took notice of the plants, animals, birds and the people in my surroundings.

Our friends and acquaintances were forestry personnel, loggers, sawmill workers, game wardens, guide outfitters, trappers, cowboys, ranchers and farmers. They were aboriginal, metis, non-native and new immigrants mostly from Scandinavia and United Kingdom.

I had previously been a practical nurse, reporter and radio disc jockey, and retail manager. It had not entered my mind to become a tour guide until I had a career change, took some re-training and sat in front of a computer for the very first time.

I had thought of becoming a travel agent and completed a travel agent course but I could not find work in the industry that paid more than commission.

During the career re-training course I researched and produced a business plan for our future ecotour business.

When on a holiday to Sedona Arizona, Gary saw how diverse and flourishing the tour business was doing there so when we returned to Parksville, we put the business plan into action.

Gary: I was born on a farm in Saskatchewan, the house was near a small lake and forest and it was my favourite spot to be. We moved to town when I was five but my sister and I always returned to the farm where our grandparents lived for the summer.

Summer weekends were always spent camping in the forest by a river or lake in the Foothill Mountains of Alberta with occasional excursions into BC. When I was 16 my family moved to a ranch in the East Kootenays of BC. The local Forest Ranger would call on my friends and me whenever there was a forest fire and so I learned about fighting forest fires.

I applied for the job of dispatcher (office clerk) at the local B.C. Forest Service office in 1965 and was hired. I wrote the assistant ranger exam in 1966 and was transferred to Revelstoke where I met my future wife Ronda. On our honeymoon we traveled to Vancouver Island and immediately knew that some day we would live here.

We were in awe of the forests and nature on the Island. We both had a deep love and appreciation for all that nature has to offer. We became the proud parents of a son and daughter. I was accepted to the advanced class at Green Timbers forestry school in Surrey. I graduated and was offered a Deputy Ranger position in Fernie BC.

When our children were young we would take them on hiking trips, in a baby backpack carrier when they were very young, until they could walk on their own. Weekends and summer vacations were spent camping at lakes and traveling to Vancouver Island to camp at Qualicum Bay and Tofino.

In 1982 our dreams came true, due to a downsizing by government I applied for a job with the Forest Service in Parksville and was successful in getting the job. Three months later another downsizing in Government closed the office in Parksville and I was offered the Recreation Officer position in Duncan.

Having been involved with the recreation program of the Forest Service in the Kootenays I looked forward to this job. During my years as Recreation Officer I developed a number of hiking, walking and interpretive trails as well as Forest campsites.

Schools and other groups would call to arrange for tours of the interpretive trails. In the fall of 1998 Ronda did a business plan for an ecotour business as part of a job re-training program.

In 1999 we spent two weeks in Sedona Arizona and there were a lot of tour operators there. For the first time I thought that ecotourism was a good semi-retirement possibility for us on Vancouver Island. When yet another downsizing by Gov?t was announced, after 35 years I decided it was time to change careers.

I could have stayed with the Forest Service for another 10 years. I had never thought I would be a tour guide. It has been one of the best decisions I have ever made and the best job satisfaction by far.

Q: Back in 1999 when Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours first started in business and no one else was doing eco tours what inspired you and what was the mission of Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours?
Ronda: My research was showing that nature based tourism was a growing market with Eco tourism starting to increase on Vancouver Island.

Other than whale watching, tour operators on Vancouver Island were offering various guided multi-day backpacking, mountain hiking and ocean kayaking trips but no one was offering day trips, especially outings designed for people seeking a shorter easier effort activity.

I thought easy effort natural history and sightseeing tours could provide a service to families and seniors who would like to experience and learn more about where they are living or visiting and could give seniors and people of various degrees of physical abilities the rare opportunity to get to places they thought they would never get to see.

Our mission is to provide a unique nature experience and to enhance environmental awareness and cultural appreciation.

Gary: Inspiration for me came from my work background, love of nature, the work that Ronda had done on a business plan and the tour business in Sedona.

Our mission was to give people of all abilities a day trip experience in nature on Vancouver Island with a learning experience of ecosystem balance and First Nations history and culture.

Q: How has both the forest and people’s attitudes changed over the years?
Ronda: I can see how the forest has certainly changed throughout my life time. The modification of the South Islands forest landscape over the past 150 years is very advanced.

Most of the Old Growth Coastal Douglas fir moist maritime biogeoclimatic zone is endangered. We are left with fragmented pockets of precious old growth forest here and there. Garry Oak ecosystem plant communities are also red listed.

As for changing attitudes of people, I would say the biggest one is that we have far less climate change deniers than we did 10 years ago. There have always been a variety of attitudes.

Most people have appreciation for nature and wildlife and want to know that all is well. When people see the clear cuts they vocalize how they want and expect the people of BC to look after our natural heritage.

Some people take a tour for the social and entertainment aspect and they often ask questions about a variety of subjects from health care to where does our electricity come from? It seems with climate change indicators becoming more visibly apparent there is a trend of people talking about climate change and talk about man’s hand in the scenario.

Gary: The forests are rapidly being converted to tree farms with continuing declines in biodiversity – less plants, animals and many ecological organisms. There seems to be a better awareness by some people but the majority still lack understanding of the importance of ecosystem diversity.

Q: On your site you have tons of great testimonials from your past clients but are there any “special” ones that have really impacted you or your tour and if so how?
Ronda: In the beginning we thought most of our tours would be to remote wilderness areas. We didn’t even start offering our day trip to Ucluelet and Tofino for the first few years. We thought people would travel there on there own, but after receiving requests we realized we better deliver what people were asking for.

I am surprised by all the offers we get from people to come and stay with them if we are traveling near where they live.

One of the special ones is a local lady who has for the past 6 years come on about 3 tours each year, every year. We have become friends.

I love the reactions of people who see a black bear, bald eagle, orca whale or a spawning salmon for the first time in their life and it causes me to appreciate and cherish the wonders of nature even more.

Gary: They are all special, many have made great suggestions that we have implemented.

Q: What do you most want people to experience and take away with them as a result of being on one of your eco-tours?
Gary: I want them to appreciated nature for what it is and for what it means to the survival of earth. I want them to go home and do what they can to ensure that their grandchildren will be able to enjoy what we now enjoy.

I want them to understand how First Nations people traditionally lived in sustainable harmony with nature for thousands of years and how we can learn from that.

Q: You clearly have a real passion for your tour business, what is the most rewarding part about your work?
Ronda: When people gain an understanding that conquering nature is not a virtue.

Gary: When the “light goes on” in people regarding the value of nature and when they understand how First Nations people lived with nature.

Q: What inspires you and your visitors about the forest and is there anything that never fails to fascinate or amaze you or them?
Gary: Old Growth Forests – there are so many different ecosystems on Vancouver Island from desert with prickly pear cactus to temperate rainforest with giant trees, and spectacular plants and wild berries.

Wildlife never ceases to amaze me, be it eagles, bears, salmon, songbirds, whales -everything!

It all amazes me as much as the tourist who is seeing for the first time an; Old Growth tree, bear or eagle in the wild.

Q: What kind of impact do you hope you are having on future generations as a result of your tours?
Gary: I hope that people will have a greater understanding of the importance of healthy ecosystems for future generations quality of life.

Q: This would be an excellent adventure daytrip from Vancouver how do people contact you to sign up for one of your tours?
Gary: Many people have contacted us by email or phone to do a day trip from Vancouver. The most common is for us to pick up in Nanaimo at the ferry or float plane dock. Qualicum Beach also has an airport with regular flights from Vancouver.

Ronda: The one that works great for people who are in Vancouver even if they only have one day is to catch a ferry or float plane in the morning and have us pick them up from the ferry or float plane dock.

We take them to the special spots for ocean view beaches and shoreline, decadent old growth forest with wild berry plants , bald eagles, eagle nests, waterfalls, Coombs market and back to Vancouver by early evening.

This is a day trip that can be easily customized to our clients interests.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add about your tour business, other services or products you’d like to tell us about or pictures you’d like us to include on the interview page?
Gary: We do large group transportation arrangements and tours. We will pick up groups at the Comox, Nanaimo or Victoria airports and bring them to conference centers in Parksville, arrange day trips for spouses of the conference group or arrange tours for the whole group.

We also provide a sandcastle building competition for conference groups with professional sand carvers as instructors.

Much thanks and appreciation once again to Gary and Ronda Murdock. Visit them at their website Rain Forest Nature Hikes (Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours) better yet book a tour and take a walk with them through the forest.

…Return often for more exciting information on many more of Vancouver’s best things to do, sights to see and local attractions. The site keeps expanding with more and more information about Vancouver. Please subscribe to our “Why Vancouver” blog so you don’t miss a thing!

This site is growing and changing all the time so bookmark it if you want to know “Why Vancouver” is the best place in the world to be and see!

Salmon forest celebrated on Rivers Day
Brian Wilford, Oceanside Star
Published: Thursday, October 01, 2009

Forest technician Gary Murdock led about 50 people through the ‘salmon forest’ above the estuary of the Little Qualicum River Sunday as part of a BC Rivers Day celebration, the 10th organized locally by the Mid Island Chapter of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

Murdock, who is used to leading tours as CEO of Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours Inc., led a group which ranged from scampering children to seniors with canes down to the river, across a log bridge and through a diversity of forest ecosystems, stopping to highlight items of interest: an eagle’s egg fallen from a tree, a rare plant, towering trees — including the third-tallest Sitka spruce in Canada, and a pool of chinook salmon waiting for the weather to change before moving upriver.

The point was to show that the forest is something special, something worth preserving.

salmon forest

Gary Murdock (in the hat at right) explains the intricacies of the special ecosystem involving a giant Sitka spruce, the third-tallest in Canada.

“This ecosystem really doesn’t exist anywhere else,” he said.

Murdock explained that 70% of the nitrogen in the forest comes from salmon in the river, salmon consumed by bears and wolves and then deposited to compost.

The rich land and unique climate have created trees far taller than they should be for their ages — Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, red cedar and more — trees that inspire both the wonder and the pocketbook.

“This is the richest growing area on the east coast of the Island,” said Scott Tanner of the WCWC.

The land in question is owned by the Regional District of Nanaimo and the Town of Qualicum Beach but the logging rights are held by Island Timberlands, which is half-owned by a Bermuda-based partnership controlled by Brookfield Asset Management.

The regional district and Town have tried for years to arrange a trade-off with Island Timberlands which would create a regional park abutting the river’s protected estuary.

However, Tanner said, the company appears uninterested in a deal and continues to mark the area for logging.

At the giant Sitka, Murdock points out how logging on a ridge above has allowed more sunlight through the canopy and changed the ecosystem.

Losing the ecosystem could have widespread ramifications, he said, as the Little Qualicum Sitka are resistant to a weevil which is destroying the trees elsewhere.

Heading back toward the river, the stalwart hikers cross through a mucky area where the river ran not long ago.

Tanner points out a line of dangling pink ribbons running through the forest near the riverbank.

These mark the riparian zone, where the logging must stop under regulations governing the kind of ownership possessed by Island Timberlands.

“It’s just 30 feet from the river, and you can see how ridiculously close that is,” Tanner said. “And it’s not 30 feet from the river; it’s 30 feet from the river on whatever day they were there to measure. That’s all they’re required to do.”

The river itself, he said, has moved 30 feet in recent years.

At river’s edge, the trekkers ooh and ahh over the dozens of dark chinook salmon swimming in the shallow pool as they wait to move upstream, spawn and feed the special forest.

As the tour ends, Tanner expresses optimism that the forest can be protected.

“People have the power to create change,” he said. “One of the most effective tools the Western Canada Wilderness Committee has is just to bring people in and let them see it.”

Ecotours promote forest conservation

Oceanside Star – Published: Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gary & Ronda in Victoria
Here in Oceanside a plethora of natural wonders makes eco-tourism a natural.
One Parksville couple got in on the ground floor back in 1999, before the concept became a buzzword.
“When we decided to do this no one in the region was offering ecotour day trips,” said Ronda Murdock, one half of a team that operates Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours from their home in Parksville.
“I thought that people would be interested in learning about the natural forests of Vancouver Island and what they can do to protect the ecosystems,” says husband Gary. “Having spent 40 years working in the forests of B.C., I wanted to continue to enjoy the forests, scenery and wildlife of the Island.”
The duo offers a range of tours, from short hikes to more adventurous jaunts. A partial list includes marine wildlife sightseeing, trips to the Carmanah rainforest, west coast whale watching tours, and even trips to Island wineries.
They pride themselves on providing what the customer wants, with custom trips and group rates available.
“We take people to some of those special places that remain in our backyard,” said Ronda. “Some people who think of themselves as non-environmentalists sometimes find their values change as they reconnect with nature and understand everything in the biosphere is connected.”
Both Gary and Ronda say ecotourism’s potential is practically unlimited; a good sign at a time when an economic slowdown is on everyone’s mind.
Gary said they try, wherever possible, to point out impacts of other economic sectors in the local woods.
“The most pressing issue is the liquidation of old- growth forest,” he said.
Committed environmentalists both, Gary and Ronda represent a sustainable approach to money-making at a time when economic solutions mindful of natural impacts has never been more crucial.
“We think that this is the absolute best job we have ever had,” said Gary. “We want our grandchildren’s children to be able to experience the wonders of nature that we enjoy.”