The expression “many hands make light work” is a truism being proven by the many people coming together to create the first park established on Salt Spring Island in 15 years.
While gathering the last $350,000 needed to purchase a Mount Maxwell property for a future park is perhaps not the lightest work, those involved have already succeeded in fundraising the bulk of the property’s $850,000 purchase price. To secure the 75-acre property as a public park, the remaining funds need to be in hand by the end of this year.
The property is located on the northeast slope of Mount Maxwell. Should its 75 acres be successfully protected, it will be part of the largest contiguous tract of protected land on the Southern Gulf Islands. This includes the adjacent parks, ecological reserve and North Salt Spring Waterworks District lands around Maxwell Lake. The last multi-use park established on the island was Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park.
The park will have many benefits and fill a critical gap on the island, said Elizabeth FitzZaland, a member of the Salt Spring Solutions group spearheading the effort. Horseback riding, mountain biking, disc golf, hiking and outdoor learning can take place there, she said.
The park will have the added benefit of deterring people from recreating in other more fragile areas.
Salt Spring naturalist and writer Briony Penn agreed.
“We have a lot of areas that are endangered, high sensitivity and really not very compatible with recreational use, but this is perfect. It’s got views, it’s got wonderful trails, it’s got places for people to have picnics,” she stated on the project website.
The story of this land started much earlier, with the 1999-2000 Texada Land Corporation protests. At the time, FitzZaland explained, activist Andrea Collins’ family purchased a swathe of land with the intent to preserve it.
Protecting the land from logging and development is also a goal of the park project, and the reason why FitzZaland got involved in 2019, when a larger parcel in the area was for sale at $2.3 million.
“I saw how vulnerable the land was, in that it was zoned for forestry and under that zoning you’re allowed to clear all of the land, and you’re also then allowed to subdivide and build estate developments.”
At the time, the land was being used by many for recreation.
Several groups got together at that point and quickly secured a $1-million pledge, yet before they were able to find a community entity to be the park owner, the land sold to a private party. However, the new owners were willing to work with the groups involved to find a middle ground. Wanting to remain anonymous, the family supported the park effort by discounting the appraised value of the 75-acre property by $900,000.
“We are pleased to have been able to work in collaboration with the local community groups and the CRD to establish a new park for the long-term benefit of the community,” they stated in a news release.
The donor with the original pledge has stayed involved with the project and gave $250,000, which was matched by $250,000 from the CRD’s Salt Spring Island Park Land Acquisition Fund.
“It’s one of the larger contributions we’ve made since the acquisition of the pool,” said parks and recreation manager Dan Ovington, adding that the fund has around $800,000, putting this substantial contribution into perspective.
In addition to the landowner and community support, he said, “We looked at what all the user groups were that would benefit from this acquisition, and that’s where the commission supported us making this larger contribution.”
It’s a unique effort, FitzZaland explained, due to the variety of groups and interests involved in making the park happen, including new people who haven’t traditionally been involved in island conservation efforts.
“Some of the groups are really most interested in keeping the forest intact and sequestering carbon . . . other groups are really focused on having a place where there’s sanctioned trails for things like equestrian use, dog walking and mountain biking . . . Some of the groups are really interested in protecting where the top of the watershed is, going down into the valley bottom.”
Salt Spring Solutions is most known for its housing advocacy on the island, yet the park has been a large-scale effort for two years.
“Part of that is planning ‘where’s the right place to put development that’s important and required for the community,’ and then the other part is, ‘where shouldn’t it go? What should be protected?’”
Salt Spring Solutions’ intention and hope, FitzZaland said, is to have Indigenous communities involved in planning and management of the land. The Hul’q’umi’num name for Mount Maxwell is Hwumet’utsum.
The forest on the property includes mature third growth, as well as mature second growth and some regenerating third growth.
“It’s really important, obviously, for us to protect as much old-growth and older forest as possible,” FitzZaland said. “But it’s also good to look at these regenerating forests and these forests that are younger and say, ‘Okay, in 80 years, these are going to be 100-year-old forests.”
“These are our old forests of the future, and if we can get more of that type of land protected now, then future generations are going to benefit from that along with the whole ecology.”
“Having a new park that’s multi use and being part of something that’s so grounded in collaboration . . . I hope a lot of people feel compelled to support it financially, and then also engage in what will follow,” FitzZaland said.
Should the park purchase go through, the CRD will manage the land.
Ovington said some calls have come in from concerned neighbours, adding that he’s been emphasizing that a management plan will include consultations with all surrounding neighbours and user groups.
“That helps us determine what level of activity we’re going to support in the park, what level of development, what types of trails. Are these . . . back country trails, are they going to be more urban? But there’ll be lots of consultation once it goes through before we actually do any construction or assessments up there,” he added.
A CRD news release noted should the land be acquired, it would be accessed from Seymour Heights and, in the future, a trail from Wright Road.
People interested in donating to the park acquisition will get a tax receipt from the Salt Spring Foundation, which is involved in coordinating the fundraising with Salt Spring Solutions. Visit communitypark.ca/ for more details and to donate.