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
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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This is more of a good news story, in my opinion. Oh sure, there’s plenty of hurdles, including a financial challenge. But over just the past seven years, so much in the political climate here has changed. It’s these ongoing changes–in attitude, acceptance of science and some long-standing problems, and an openness to progress of the right kind–that makes me hopeful. At this moment in time, all of the valley leaders and conservation groups are being gifted with an opportunity to create a jewel of a legacy. Who will cooperate to make it feasible and who won’t? Hopefully George will keep us posted.
My first comment on this forum 🙂
I don’t believe as suggested in the comments that governance will prove a terminal hurdle for this service proposal. In the Comox Valley Regional District we do operate many successful public services between jurisdictions. Examples includes Comox Valley Transit; the Sports Commission; Water; Sewer; and many other smaller programs as well. Sometimes there are disagreements and “des batailles de clocher”, but overall all these services are operate well and efficiently. I am confident the concept of Regional Parks will be given due consideration by all our jurisdictions in the months ahead, and if it shows promise and value I certainly can envision it coming to life ~
First, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to you for your support for the regional parks strategy and for having the courage to express your opinion in the democratic forum offered by Decafnation. Thank you!
I wish I could share your optimism. The creation of a regional park strategy in conjunction with the establishment of regional environmental protection areas would benefit future generations of our beautiful valley.
The reason for my pessimism is evidenced by George’s December 16th article describing post-pandemic economic recovery grants. In the article, George explains that the 9.25 M$ grant to the Comox Valley will be broken into grants of 4.15 M$ to Courtenay, 3.07 M$ to Comox, 1.31 M$ to Cumberland and 0.72 M$ to the CVRD. The fragmented funding will likely result in redundant efforts and have a smaller overall impact on the economy of the Valley as a whole. It is safe to say that any effort to persuade councillors from the various jurisdictions to contribute to a pooled regional fund would lead to a “des batailles de clocher”. ☺
This is a wonderful idea. It’s very sad that nothing was done in this regard since the idea was first floated in the 1970s. A regional Parks strategy would fit in with the Regional Growth Strategy perfectly. Sadly, many people will not want to financially support this idea through our taxes. Comments on the Comox Valley Politics Facebook page already bear that out. And Ken McDonald is right when he questions how our four municipal governments are going to be able to make this happen when they can’t agree on tourism development or economic development. But Mr. McDonald is also absolutely right when he talks about all the families forced to live in apartments or condominiums because they cannot afford a detached home in which to raise their children. Having a regional plan for parks (whether ‘managed’ or left wild) makes complete sense in so many ways.
A regional park strategy along with funding to acquire parkland makes perfect sense! The majority of recent housing developments in the Valley consist of apartments and condominiums. People who live in these large multi-unit complexes do not have the luxury of a private yard. Try to imagine raising a couple of toddlers in a small apartment with no place for the children to play out doors. The fact is, many, if not most, young families have no choice. They cannot afford to buy a detached single family home. These families depend on public parks for outdoor recreation. Our local planners and local governments are not setting aside sufficient park space for the rapidly growing population in the Valley. Try finding a parking space at Comox Marina Park, Goose Spit or Nymph Falls on a busy Sunday afternoon during the summer.
There are two major obstacles to achieving a regional park system. One is political and the other is financial. The political problem rests with our dysfunctional, fragmented regional local government system. Representatives of the CVRD Board will pay lip service to a regional park strategy, but when the rubber meets the road, they will always choose to support park development in their respective communities. The other issue is funding. Residents of the Comox Valley are facing some enormous infrastructure costs associated with the movement of the sewer force main and upgrade of the sewage treatment plant. It won’t be long before residents will be hit with significant tax increases to support climate change adaptation. Where is the money going to come from to buy parkland? Don’t expect windfalls from provincial and federal governments to continue indefinitely.
The source of both problems is our regional governance structure. We have four different local government bureaucracies serving a small population of only 68,000 people, with each of those jurisdictions competing with one another for finite resources.
Ask yourself, if our local governance structure can’t get their act together to support regional economic development services, how successful will they be at implementing a regional park strategy.
Well said Ken. I have perhaps a bit more hope that the regional parks strategy will work and think that it’s worth exploring. Economic development is a disaster alright and nothing will change there until the secretive society called CVEDS is made to disappear.
Thus is a nice idea but what about the large tracts of beautiful land being consumed by the Town of Comox for housing developments. These areas should be used as parkland, as now, more than ever, our wildlife and our children need help. Computers are consuming the lives of not only adults but vulnerable children who no longer seem to play outsides as they once did. One has to be blind not to see our planet is in trouble and wiping out wilderness areas is not the answer. it seems the Town of Comox is not on their radar and this is directed more towards Courtenay.