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Tofino Local Profile: Park Ranger Pete Clarkson

As a small boy in Ottawa, Pete Clarkson grew up knowing he wanted to live a life of danger and adventure. And he has spent the last three decades doing just that.

The Visitor Safety Specialist – better known as Park Ranger Pete – is a key member of the full-time staff of about 35 people who keep Pacific Rim National Park and the wild and woolly West Coast Trail safe for visitors.

Before Pete moved to Tofino 15 years ago, he’d been stationed in Jasper National Park where he was more likely to deal with avalanche forecasting than rainstorms, tide surges and tsunami warnings. Over his 30-year career in park management, he’s led countless search and rescue missions and many mountainside and ocean evacuations. Now, though, he’s more likely to be found focusing on the beauty of nature rather than its raw fury.

Part of Pete’s job includes research and conservation of seabirds and shorebirds in the national park, especially during the spring coastal migration that takes flight each year from March to May. He’s thrilled to report that the Tofino Mudflats were recently designated as part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, recognizing them as one of the most important shorebird migration areas in the Western Hemisphere. And you can expect to see Ranger Pete leading bird-watching trips during the annual Tofino Shorebird Festival in early May. 

While he’s keeping tabs on our feathered friends, he’s also got an eye out for the debris left on the beaches after a storm. Not only is it part of his official duties to keep the park pristine, but the colours, textures and weathered shapes of what others might consider just flotsam and jetsam inspire his artistic soul.

Coming from a family of artists, he had long yearned to find an art form that matched his adventurous spirit. In Tofino, all of his worlds came together, just like the bits of flotsam and jetsam he transforms into beautiful works of art. Now his art is gaining him international attention. One of his most famous pieces, “Float-em Pole,” a totem-like sculpture assembled from plastic barrels, discarded floats and driftwood, has led to his participation in Lost and Found, a soon-to-be-released documentary on the attempts to salvage the 25 million tonnes of floating debris from Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

To see more of Pete’s art and learn more about this remarkable bird-watching, life-saving, memorial-making man of the Pacific, visit his website at www.peteclarkson.com.

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