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

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

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.



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.



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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Comox Valley local government elections ramping up for Oct. 15 vote

Comox Valley voters will elect new councilors, mayors, regional district representatives, school board members and Island Trust reps on Oct. 15. Find out who’s running for what … and why. Decafnation returns to shine more light on local government issues and candidates

The Week: Does the Comox Valley need a regional park service … and quickly?

The Week: Does the Comox Valley need a regional park service … and quickly?

Low-lying fog on the Puntledge River seen from the popular Bevan Swing swimming area  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Does the Comox Valley need a regional park service … and quickly?


This week we’re talking about regional parks and zeroing in on what 3L Developments Inc. actually paid for their Puntledge Triangle land. We’re being curious about an interesting twist in the school trustee by-election on Saturday and a missed opportunity for the Town of Comox. And what happened to Ronna-Rae Leonard?

Meanwhile, it’s opening weekend up at Mt. Washington.


Does the Comox Valley need a regional parks service? Given all the recent attention to popular recreation areas along both sides of the Puntledge River, it seems that we do. And it’s probably inevitable.

We reported this week on a new society that hopes to save the Bevan Trails area from imminent logging by Hancock Forest Management. There’s also a public interest in preserving the current state of the Puntledge Triangle and its access to Stotan Falls.

These two areas — both located in Electoral Area C — certainly warrant public acquisition. The Puntledge River runs through the heart of the Comox Valley and we already have several parks along the river’s lower reaches.

But here’s the problem: There is no Comox Valley regional park service. So it’s currently up to rural taxpayers to fund the purchase of any land for parks in Electoral Areas A, B or C. Because the three Comox Valley municipalities do not contribute to the rural parks fund, its funds are limited.

Other regional districts on the Island have regional park services. For example, consider this language from the Regional District of Nanaimo:

“A regional park function was established in the RDN in 1989. In 1995, the Regional Board adopted a Parks System Plan to guide the development of Regional Parks. The vision back then was of a park system that “secures, protects and stewards lands within the Region that maintain livability, provide environmental and natural resource protection and accommodate outdoor recreational pursuits”.

“Then, in 1998, the Board approved a plan for acquiring up to nine regional park sites over the next seven years. The sites were intended to serve a variety of outdoor activities, and protect a range of habitats and natural features.”

A regional park function makes sense for us, too. And we might already have one.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve believes the Comox Valley Regional District has an inactive regional park service bylaw. He told Decafnation this week that regional directors adopted a bylaw in the 1990s but it lapsed because they couldn’t decide which projects to fund. The bylaw could be re-activated because the regional board has never rescinded it.

Regional district staff plan to present a report on this topic at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting.

It’s fair to say that those people living in the densest and highest populated areas of our community are just as likely — some would argue more likely — to use parks and other recreational sites in our rural areas. Shouldn’t they contribute to the purchase and maintenance of regional parks?

Of course, this is going to spark a whole new community conversation. But it’s one we must have if we’re going to consider preserving large areas like the Puntledge Triangle or Bevan Trails.

Is it possible for local governments to make all of this happen in time to preserve either of the areas currently on the chopping block? Stay tuned.


Speaking of 3L Developments Inc., In last week’s commentary, we speculated that the company had paid around $1.5 million for the four parcels comprising their proposed Riverwood subdivision. We were wrong.

According to new information from two separate sources, tax records show the company paid almost $3.7 million. The sales mostly occurred in 2006. One of the parcels shows a sale as late as 2012 but that could be the result of an internal transfer of titles, according to one source.

BC Assessment records show the properties were valued for tax purposes at $4.646 million in 2019 and at $4.222 million in 2020, a drop of $424,000.


There’s an interesting twist to Dec. 12’s general voting in the Area C school trustee by-election.

When voters go to the polls on Saturday, Dec. 12 they might not recognize the name of one candidate: Cristi May.

Cristi May-Sacht is definitely among the six candidates seeking election. But not Cristi May.

According to our source, May-Sacht was told her name was too long to fit on the physical ballot so it was shortened. That’s a curious decision.

What happens if May-Sacht falls just a few votes short of winning? Could she demand a new election with her proper name on the ballot?


The Town of Comox has missed an excellent opportunity to resolve their Mack Laing Trust problem; specifically, what to do with the famous ornithologist’s heritage home, called Shakesides.

The BC Government has set aside $90 million to provide fully-funded $1 million grants for local government projects that support economic resilience during the pandemic. The idea is to create immediate job opportunities for those negatively impacted by COVID public health orders. Eligible projects have to begin by the end of next year and complete within two years.

The government specified four key categories of shovel-ready projects that would qualify. One of those is Unique Heritage Infrastructure.

Restoring Shakesides in accordance with the Laing Trust agreement would have surely qualified. There’s already a comprehensive business plan for the project and more than 30 volunteer skilled craftspeople and businesses, including Lacasse Construction, are ready to go.

But the only application submitted by the town was to construct a new marine services building on the waterfront.

The town needs to deal with its failure to resolve this outstanding issue. Two years ago, the Town Council couldn’t get back to the BC Supreme Court fast enough for a ruling on their petition to vary the trust agreement and demolish Shakesides. Now they’re doing nothing.

Why? Probably because a few early Supreme Court orders went against them. A Justice ruled that the Mack Laing Heritage Society could participate in the court hearings and present their mountain of evidence, some of which looks very bad for the town.

So, after spending nearly $300,000 of your tax money on legal fees, the town realized there was a high probability the court would deny their application. The court could also order an independent financial audit of how the town handled the financial aspects of the Mack Laing Trust agreement.

No surprise then that the Town Council is avoiding a trip back to court.

That’s what makes this missed opportunity so sad. A $1 million grant from the province to fund a Shakesides restoration project along with the Heritage Society’s volunteers might have made this 38-year-old lingering problem go away. And it could have healed a few community wounds.


Courtenay-Comox voters might have noticed an interesting change in Premier John Horgan’s new government. Absent from the list is MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard.

She lost her position as the government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors’ Services and Long-Term Care to Mable Elmore, an 11-year MLA for Vancouver-Kensington. No reason was given for the change.

This article was updated to correct the general voting date to Saturday, Dec. 12.



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