A treasured piece of Salt Spring could finally become more accessible to the community with new plans for the Mill Farm Park Reserve in the works more than 20 years after the first portion was acquired.
The 315-hectare asset in the southern mountain area includes three individual lots separated by Crown land that were acquired by the Capital Regional District between 1996 and 2004. While initiation of a comprehensive management plan is not being contemplated until 2025, a set of guidelines advanced by the parks and environment committee on Nov. 27 could offer a better user experience in the meantime. The CRD Board is set to vote on their recommendation today (Wednesday, Dec. 11).
Salt Spring Islanders who frequent the area feel it’s about time some attention was focused there.
“The park has been here for 25 years and the CRD still hasn’t begun to sign and maintain the trails. That’s very sad,” said Charles Kahn, who acted as a volunteer park warden for the CRD from 2006 to 2014.
The original plot is crisscrossed with old logging roads, so there are plenty of unofficial hiking routes available. An anonymous person has posted homemade wayfinding signs at many of the junctions to help people avoid getting lost.
The 65-hectare property was first homesteaded 100 years ago by three Smith brothers from England, who installed the historic mill wheel that can still be seen in a creek. Later on it was owned in collective by a group of eight people who purchased it in 1981. A decade or so later, the need to sell and keen interest from a logging company prompted the community to raise $150,000 toward the $800,000 purchase. The CRD added two other portions to the park reserve off Mount Bruce Road and adjacent to Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park in 2001 and 2004.
The installation of new gates and barriers to prevent vehicles from entering the park reserve is listed as one of the first actions to take place under the interim management plan. The development concept includes creating a small amount of parking and an orientation sign at the primary access on Musgrave Road in 2020. A temporary toilet is also to be installed at this site in 2021.
Three signed trails would provide official access routes during the interim phase. Mill Farm Trail would link the Musgrave Road access to the Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park trails, and Lookout Trail would lead from Mill Farm Trail to a viewpoint location on the northwest side of the park, both to be completed in 2020. A third trail could connect Mount Bruce Road to the Salt Spring Conservancy’s Alvin Indridson Nature Reserve using former logging roads, but is marked as low priority.
Archaeological and ecological studies are to take place throughout the interim plan timeline.
For more on this story, see the Dec. 11, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.
I lived here with my then partner, Neil Whiteman, a caretaker for the Smith family. It was the hippie era, and it was an idyllic two years of quiet learning to just be. We had chickens, goats, an orchard, and grew food in the garden. There were deer, feral goats, and sheep, and the occasional cougar. I read by oil lamp, and Neil played boogie woogie on an old piano.
I feel privileged to have had this “back to the earth” time, and of lessons in self sufficiency. I think it would be a better world if everyone could “drop out” for a while and allow nature to heal them with its beauty. Wonderful walks in the cedar woods.