Jen Alton and Graham Hilliar at the Bevan Swing area of the 7.5 hectares slated to be logged along the Puntledge River | George Le Masurier photos
New Comox Valley society hopes to preserve Bevan Trails forest along Puntledge River
Comox Valley friends Jen Alton and Graham Hilliar grew up hiking and swimming in what they knew as the Bevan Trails.
They, along with many other residents, thought of the trails and swimming holes that follow both sides of the river from BC Hydro’s Comox Lake Dam down to its Diversion Dam as a park.
After all, the whole area was well maintained and even had park-like directional markers and a large “you are here” sign and map at the trailhead.
So it was a shock for them to learn recently that the area is not a park. In fact, although BC Hydro holds title to the property, it does not own the rights to the timber that grows there.
The big 100-year-old cedar and fir tree forests that line the Puntledge River, shading wetlands and providing refuge for wildlife, belong to Hancock Forest Management, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Hancock Timber Resource Group, a multinational company.
And Hancock has plans to log the area as soon as possible.
The two friends and newcomer Devin Burton hope to prevent that. They have formed the Puntledge River Forest Protection Society to raise awareness about the pending logging operation and to encourage the Comox Valley Regional District, the province and BC Hydro to work with Hancock to preserve the area.
“We don’t think many local people know that even though BC Hydro has maintained it like a park, it’s not a park,” Alton told Decafnation on a tour of the property this week.
“So we’ve kind of kicked the hornets’ nest,” she said.
The new society started a petition on Change.org that already has more than 4,100 signatures and they have created a Facebook page. The trio has also officially joined the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership to inform and learn from their like-minded stewardship peers.
More importantly, the society has talked with Hanock’s local representatives, who agreed to continue to have internal discussions about their plan to harvest logs from about 7.5 hectares of the property that includes the popular swimming area known as the Bevan Swing.
And while Hancock wouldn’t commit to cancelling or even delaying their harvest plans, they did commit to having another discussion with the society in the near future.
But Hancock doesn’t want to wait long. Had the group not spoken up, the area might have already been logged.
Hancock acquired the property in 1995 from other private owners and in 2016 logged a portion of the property furthest away from the river and the trails. The area they plan to log next impacts the core of the recreation area.
Hilliar says Hancock has told the group they would be amenable to selling the timber rights.
“This important wildlife corridor and popular recreational area is worth protecting,” said Hilliar. “We are informing the community of the planned logging within the Bevan Trails network and encouraging local and provincial governments along with bc hydro to come up with a solution to protect this area.”
SOCIETY HAS POLITICAL SUPPORT
Courtenay Councillor Doug Hillian recently raised the issue during an unrelated BC Hydro presentation to the regional district board, of which he is also a director.
“I am a user of the trails and appreciate the recreational and environmental values,” he told Decafnation this week. “While I also recognize the dilemma of trying to protect all the special places in the Valley given our limited resources.”
And other regional directors have expressed support for the group’s goals.
Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour said that while provincial Riparian Area Regulations protect the core of our rivers and waterways, preserving wider buffers and natural corridors for recreational opportunities is a long-standing regional priority.
“Rivers such as the Trent, Puntledge, Tsable, Tsolum, Oyster, and many others still offer opportunities to invest for the long term,” he said. “Partnerships such as the recent investment in Perseverance Creek and Kus-kus-sum exemplify how good outcomes can be achieved. For the Bevan area, growing the partnership with BC Hydro and Hancock would appear promising.”
Tim Ennis, the executive director of the Comox Valley Lands Trust (CVLT) and project manager for the Kus-kus-sum restoration project, thinks the Puntledge River Forest project is a worthy one.
“The CVLT, like most people in the Valley, were taken by surprise when we learned that BC Hydro did not own the trees,” he told Decafnation. “I think we all agreed that BC Hydro’s excellent management of the land from what seems like a park perspective, meant that it was protected notwithstanding the obvious use for hydroelectric generation.”
Ennis added that the CV Lands Trust recognizes that there are “very high conservation values” on the land that is “certainly worthy of protection in perpetuity.”
“These stand in addition to recreational and presumably heritage values,” he said.
Area C Director Edwin Grieve said the acquisition of land or timber rights is made difficult because the whole Puntledge corridor until it gets to the City of Courtenay, is in Area C.
“The Electoral Area-only parks function does not receive any contribution from the municipalities and as such has limited funds,” he told Decafnation via email on Dec. 3. “There is some appetite now at the CVRD to explore a region-wide park acquisition service much like they have in RDN, Cowichan RD and Capital RD. Other jurisdictions have been very successful in acquiring and developing parks and greenways. The “rails with trails” projects along the E&N right of way, for example, would not be possible without the economies of scale a broader service brings.”
A UNIQUE CASE
How the timber rights got separated from the land title represents a unique situation that dates back more than a century to Cumberland’s coal mining origins.
One of the conditions for the then-colony of Vancouver Island to join the Canadian Dominion was to build a railroad, the current technology of the times for moving goods and people.
James Dunsmuir agreed to build a railroad from Victoria to Campbell River (the last leg was never finished) and took the Island’s east coast coal-rich lands as payment. Dunsmuir then built the Comox Dam to generate electricity for his mining operations.
Eventually, the mine sold the dam to a predecessor of BC Hydro but retained the mineral and timber rights. Since then, resource rights have been sold and resold to a number of private companies.
BC Hydro’s website adds to the historical record.
“In 1912 Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. developed the hydroelectric potential of Comox Lake and the Puntledge River to provide electricity for the operation of its coal mines in the Cumberland area.
“The BC Power Commission, BC Hydro’s predecessor, acquired the Puntledge hydroelectric development in 1953. By 1955 the company had rebuilt the diversion dam, penstocks and powerhouse to quadruple the systems electrical output to the local community. Additional improvements included upgrading the dam in 1982.
“Following the expansion of the Puntledge hydroelectric system in the 1950s, BC Hydro, in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, initiated several fish enhancements on the Puntledge River. Today, 98 per cent of the young salmon pass the diversion dam safely.”
BC HYDRO’S MANAGEMENT
The Crown Corporation of BC Hydro has maintained and improved the land along the Puntledge River as a prime recreation area for hikers, bikers and swimmers. It manages similar recreation areas at the John Hart Dam and the Strathcona Dam among others.
On its website, BC Hydro describes the recreation area.
“The Puntledge River corridor has trails to suit everyone. There are several trail loops to follow, depending on your time and fitness level. If you are not a frequent hiker or mountain biker, you should increase the time estimates we have provided.
“The hiking trails on BC Hydro property were constructed to be accessible for sport wheelchairs. For safety reasons and to limit damage, some trails are closed to mountain bikes and horses.
“Please observe trail rules. BC Hydro’s trails were built to connect with the network within Comox-Strathcona Regional District’s Nymph Falls Nature Park.
The Puntledge River Forest Protection Society plans to make a presentation at either a meeting of the Comox Valley Regional District board or at the Electoral Areas Services Commission.
They are also hoping to get a purchase price estimate from Hancock Forest Management to help local and provincial governments to assess the priority of preserving the Bevan Trails area.
In the meantime, they are waiting for responses from MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard and MP Gordon Johns to their pleas for support.
And they are encouraging people to sign their petition here.
SHORT HISTORY OF THE BEVAN TOWNSITE AREA
The following article is from Robin L.A. Shaw’s website that features many short histories of the Comox Valley.
Bevan Townsite is the ruins of a coal mining community. Bevan, and the areas around it, like Cumberland, were once the site of a huge coal mining operation.
It had eight different mine shafts in the area and #7 shaft here in Bevan in 1902. Its workers consisted of Black, Chinese, Japanese and White men and boys. It was very racially discriminating and it is known for a large amount of mining deaths. No. 7 mine closed in 1921. Other mines in the area operated from around that time until the 1950`s.
They began building houses in about 1911 and the small town grew quickly. It consisted of a post office, a store, a large hotel and over 100 homes. Some of the houses that used to be here actually got brought into Cumberland and the surrounding area. Many are still around to this day.
The town was here until about the 1950’s when the mines stopped operating. Then, when everything was closed, and the houses were gone, they turned the hotel into a home for mentally-challenged adults, until the 1980, when that too, was closed. Now the area is the site of Lake Trail Guest House, which is like a Bread and Breakfast.
There is a lot to see along its many trails. There is a nice portion of river that has beautiful clear water, perfect for swimming. With small bridges along the path that make it a lovely walk. They even have a horse hitch for you riders.
Along the trails you will find many cement foundations, bricks, and I even found a chimney once. You have the chance to stumble upon old glass bottles, coins and many other things left behind from when this was a small town. At one point I found a hole that goes right underground and into one of these buildings, it was a little creepy in there. (Update…its boarded up). It was very dark and smelled like rotting wood. Good for a day hike or a short walk.
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