Maple Leaf Adventures
"When this beautiful coastal world sustains us, it's only smart to sustain it, too," says Kevin Smith, a long-time environmental and recreation advocate for the BC coast and the owner of Maple Leaf Adventures. "That's why I volunteered five years to negotiate the Great Bear agreement. It's why Maple Leaf has protocol agreements with First Nations, supplies the ship from coastal communities, hires local crew and naturalists, and donates to Sierra Club. And you know what? These local connections create a rich, authentic experience for our guests."
Smith's list of self-less giving for the environment is long and varied. The long time marine park ranger has devoted much of his free time to protecting BC's coast, independently and as the owner of a company offering wilderness sailing tours from the Gulf Islands to Alaska. His efforts since the early 1990s in the boardroom and on board his 100-year-old schooner, the Maple Leaf, have helped create awareness and pressure to make the Great Bear Rainforest a reality. Maple Leaf Adventures created awareness by giving away trips to the Rainforest to environmental groups, writers and photographers that were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Smith sat on the board for more than five years that eventually finalized the deal to create the 4.4 million acre park.
"Forest management in the past has been terrible for wilderness tourism," Smith says. "We used think all we needed to do was make the forest look pretty from the window of a cruise ship. However, those of us at Maple Leaf Adventures and other tourism organizations knew there was a deeper meaning to wilderness tourism. Our guests are intelligent and curious. They want to see the wildlife. They want to get out in the rainforest and understand it up close. They want to see an intact spirit bear habitat. We fought for that."
This was not Maple Leaf's first conservation effort. The company spearheaded the Code of Conduct for the Gwaii Haanas Tour Operators Association, as well as co-founded the organization. This Code of Conduct is still regarded around the world as a model for sustainable tourism. And Smith helped develop and promote the Commercial Bear Viewing Association, an industry group that regulates and trains bear viewing guides in B.C.
All his efforts fit with the company's philosophy of being an "all-rounder" in terms of sustainable business practices. "We don't wait for regulators to force us to act," Smith says. "We design our trips from the ground up to minimize environmental impacts."
"People who travel with us don't want to just see the world, they want to immerse themselves in it and be a part of it," says Maureen Gordon, Maple Leaf's marketing manager and part time deck hand. "We experience the entire environment on our trips, not just the viewscapes."
"It's our choice to promote healthy and sustainable places to live," she continues. "We think in the big picture."
Photos © Kevin J. Smith / Maple Leaf Adventures