Hundreds of campers who had planned to live off the land for a month in a northern Vancouver Island provincial park are being forced to go elsewhere.
The B.C. government shut down Raft Cove Provincial Park, about 130 kilometres west of Port McNeill.
The closure on Saturday came after locals raised concerns that a mass gathering of participants of the so-called Rainbow World Gathering of Tribes would wreak havoc on the small park.
"The closure was prompted over specific concerns that an increase in the number of visitors unprepared for such a remote and rugged location would significantly increase the risk to public health and safety, the protection of the natural environment and the preservation of park values," BC Parks said in a written statement.
The World Rainbow Gathering of Tribes was founded in 1970, and is a group that hopes to create a "healthy and harmonious world" through the "protection, preservation and restoration of natural habitats and fostering World Peace," according to the group's Facebook page.
The group holds multiple events a year, and had moved a camp-in movement to Raft Cove after the original location on the banks of the Slocan River was fouled by a jet fuel spill two weeks ago.
According to Port McNeill resident Terry Ruth Eissfeldt, nearly two-thousand people were expected to camp at Raft Cove for the month.
"This is a place where, when there are 30 people there on a weekend, it feels crowded," said Eissfeldt, who created a Facebook page last week to oppose the gathering.
Eissfeldt said she had learned from someone who had gone into the park that about a hundred people — some not associated with the rainbow gathering — had already assembled in the area.
The group had dug a latrine close to a salmon-bearing stream on the island's northwest coast, cleared some shrubs, and picked grass to make thatched sun shades, she said. Other residents have also seen people arriving at the park without any appropriate camping supplies.
"I just applaud the Minister of the Environment and BC Parks...in taking a pro-active step to just say, 'We better do this now before it gets out of control,"' she said.
Eissfeldt said she understands why people would want to congregate at Raft Cove where, in the summer, "it is the absolute best place to be," but she said the wild wilderness must be protected and preserved.
BC Parks said the park closure will last until further notice, and the site will be monitored daily.