Graham Hilliar and Jen Alton examining trees tagged for logging in the Bevan Trails Recreation Area  |  George Le Masurier photo

CVRD starts the process to create a regional parks service, it could take until 2022

Dec 15, 2020 | Government

By George Le Masurier

With the possibility of losing several important large parcels of recreational land to logging, the Comox Valley Regional District this week moved a step closer to establishing a regional park service.

During its Dec. 15 meeting, regional directors voted to start what could be a lengthy process to create a regional parks service.

They directed staff to undertake a $25,000 background study and report back to the board.

A regional parks service that is funded by the entire Comox Valley would create the increased capacity to purchase large parcels of land, such as the 3L Developments Inc. property near Stotan Falls and the Bevan Trails Recreation Area higher up on the Puntledge River.

The only active parks service in existence now applies exclusively to the rural electoral areas and is funded by residents of those areas.

The vote occurred after directors heard a presentation from CVRD Parks Manager Mark Harrison on the history of parks services, the difference between regional and community parks and the benefits of creating a regional parks service.

In 1971, the then-Comox Strathcona Regional District developed a regional parks service that was funded in both 1972 and 1975, but the money was ultimately redistributed to the participating municipalities because directors could not agree on which parks to fund. The bylaw became dormant.

Harrison’s presentation offered the board several options for reactivating.

The first option would undertake a background study to include input from municipalities and the K’omoks First Nation, It would review best practices, funding models, examine local parks and greenway plans and more.

It’s a process that staff indicated could take until 2022 to re-activate the dormant parks service bylaw.

But several directors did not want to wait that long.

They preferred a second option to convert the dormant service into an active bylaw first and then engage the municipalities and KFN later. That would have enabled the regional district to start funding and possibly pursuing parkland more quickly.

“It (a regional parks service) is long overdue and the time is now,” Area C Electoral Director Edwin Grieve said. He urged directors to take a leadership role.

Area A Director Daniel Arbour agreed. “We’ve had 50 years to think about this,” he said.

But the rest of the directors voted to accept the staff recommendation with an understanding that it be completed as soon as possible.

 

BENEFITS OF A PARK SERVICE

Parks Manager Harrison told the board that the pandemic has shown the importance of natural areas for mental and physical health and social engagement. But, he said, it has also revealed the deficiencies in the existing parks service.

One of the deficiencies is a lack of clarity over what constitutes a community park versus a regional park service.

A community park service, he said, primarily benefits the rural areas that exclusively fund and operate them. A regional service benefits the whole region and is funded by all taxpayers in the Comox Valley.

Harrison said if the regional district chooses to collaborate and reactive a regional parks service it could accomplish many goals.

He said regional parks could consist of trails that connect our core communities. It could protect natural assets in perpetuity and make it possible to acquire large parcels of land that in the Comox Valley are often held privately.

A regional parks service could help combat climate change, enhance tourism. It would protect traditional recreation lands and the integrity of watersheds.

“These are all really good and just goals,” he said.

Harrison pointed to successes by other Vancouver Island regional districts that already have regional parks services. He noted the Englishman River park that includes a conservation area. The Elk and Beaver lakes areas in the Capital Regional District and the Galloping Goose and Lochside Trails.

In the Cowichan area, the regional district has protected swimming pools along the Cowichan River and created an extensive trail system for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

“It takes cooperation from a whole community to achieve some of these types of parks that are regionally significant and benefit the region as a whole,” he said.

 

CONSERVATION GROUPS SUPPORT

The 26 organizations of the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership and their thousands of individual members have encouraged the regional district to activate a regional parks service.

Speaking to the board on behalf of the partnership, Tim Ennis, the executive director of the Comox Valley Lands Trust offered to collaborate with the regional district because “we can achieve more together.”

He noted the Lands Trust and the regional district have worked successfully together in the past on projects like the Tsolum River Commons and the Morrison Creek Conservation Area. In the latter project, the regional district provided a third of the funding and the Lands Trust secured the remainder from sources within and outside the local community.

“A regional park service could expand our capabilities,” he said.

Ennis noted that there are several front-burner conservation opportunities before the community currently that could only be accomplished through collaboration. He said CVCP members have extensive experience and that they were available to help.

 

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