Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours
Gary and Ronda Murdock are naturalists and environments who love nature with a passion. They operate Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours on Vancouver Island.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 and took the time out of their busy schedules to do this interview with WhyVancouver.com.
WhyVancouver.com: 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.
WhyVancouver.com: 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.
WhyVancouver.com: 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 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.
WhyVancouver.com: 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.
WhyVancouver.com: 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.
WhyVancouver.com: 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.
WhyVancouver.com: 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.
WhyVancouver.com: 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.
WhyVancouver.com: 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.
WhyVancouver.com: 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.
Thanks very much for your time Gary and Ronda Murdock.
You can contact Gary and Ronda to set up a tour by calling them or visit them at their website Rain Forest Nature Hikes (www.rainforestnaturehikes.com)) better yet book a tour and take a walk with them through the forest.
Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours Inc.
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