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  • Parking over paradise


    Kim Barnard
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    Should additional parking for the Kinsol Trestle recreation area be allowed to destroy a sensitive ecosystem?

     

    A PANHANDLE PARCEL OF of environmentally sensitive, salmon-bearing wetland on Renfrew Road in Shawnigan Lake is being considered for gravel parking for upwards of 100 vehicles and construction of park amenities as part of a proposed “Kinsol Trestle Gateway Project.”

    This plan by the Cowichan Valley Regional District is slated to meet the present and future needs of parking and public rest area facilities for the Historic Kinsol Trestle recreational and tourist destination that has been growing in popularity since it was restored in 2011.

     

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    One area of Taylor Park that the proposed parking lot would endanger. (Photo by Dawna Mueller)

     

    The plans were made possible by an application for a Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP) grant to cover the costs of a 100-vehicle gravel lot, bus parking, washroom facilities with a well and disposal field (septic). The location and layout “aims to reduce existing trestle/trail visitor conflict with the local residential area and alleviate current use pressures on secondary neighbourhood roads” (CVRD Staff Report to the Board, CERIP, October 28, 2020).

    To qualify for this grant, an emphasis has been placed on Destination Development tourist infrastructure to “address vehicle traffic visitations and user experience”—over preserving the pristine wetland habitat and necessary drainage that this panhandle provides.

     

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    Wetlands in Taylor Park show “Caution! Salmon at Work” signs. (Photo by Dawna Mueller)

     

    The water that runs through the property meanders amongst trees labelled with bright yellow “Caution! Salmon at Work” fish habitat signs from the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Amidst the pools of water are gurgling streams, crossing under Renfrew Road and draining into the West Arm of Shawnigan Lake. It’s possible to imagine Taylor Park as it was meant to be—an oasis for humans, fish and wildlife alike—respectful of the role that wetlands serve in our lakeside ecology.

    Shawn Taylor and his family donated the majority of the five-acre Taylor Park parcel to the CVRD in 2004, with the understanding that this natural oasis and vital wetland would be kept as a park.

     

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    More wetland area in Taylor Park (Photo by Dawna Mueller)

     

    Taylor learned of the Gateway Project earlier this month through a press release from the BC Government announcing the CERIP funding, and promptly wrote a detailed letter to the CVRD “re: Pending Destruction of Shawnigan Lake Ecological Wetland” outlining his concerns. His letter concluded with a call for “a comprehensive environmental review of the property, community consultation, and input regarding future plans” for this parcel.

    To support the environmental protection of this sensitive property, Taylor reached out to the Shawnigan Basin Society and made the Taylor Park area available for viewing. Several members and interested residents attended, listening and making observations. While touring the property, it was clear to the group that demolishing the landscape would amount to an ecological travesty, as it did not meet naturally-level parking lot criteria and would suffer from the amount of gravel and other materials necessary to fill in the unstable terrain. Subsequent visits and conversations with the neighbours pointed to the bird life observed—such as kingfishers, owls, herons and eagles—that were drawn to the food sources sustained by these streams.

    Along with the ecological concerns, there are some challenges to the proposed plans. The CVRD received $459,000 or just over half of the $850,000 that was originally applied for under the scope of the project. The Destination Development funding was awarded to the CVRD through an application in October 2020, with the understanding that the proposed shovel-ready project would begin before December 31st, 2021. Furthermore it should be noted that the current 35-vehicle lot off Glen Eagles Road quickly outgrew its capacity, in less than 10 years. The 10-metre wide access and 200-metre long panhandle of the Taylor Park parcel barely allows for 2-way traffic and leaves no room to grow further in the future. It’s difficult to imagine buses navigating and manoeuvring in that space.

    Helpful suggestions from the Shawnigan Basin Society included checking out alternative locations such as the bedrock section of greenbelt on the other side of Renfrew Road with easy access to the Trestle Estates Park area bordered by the amply situated and paved Timber Ridge Road. To allow for future growth, cars and buses could be accommodated in a decentralized plan that used well-marked signage and routes to direct them to safe and solid ground on which to discharge their passengers.

     

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    An aerial view of the alternate parking area proposed by the Shawnigan Basin Society

     

    With dreams of a “playground, grass, litter receptacle, trail development and signage” that Shawn Taylor had originally envisioned (based on the Shawnigan Lake Parks and Trails Master Plan, Appendix C), this area could become a delightful jewel of the CVRD’s Active Transportation Plan to attract cyclists, hikers and day picnickers to enjoy a shady rest area just off of the Trans Canada Trail on their way to and from the Trestle.

    It’s hoped that a Gateway Project to “accommodate destination-oriented traffic to the Historic Kinsol Trestle” will want to plan long term for a more robust and scalable parking strategy and leave Taylor Park in its natural ecological state.

     

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    Area of Taylor Park at risk due to the proposed parking lot. (Photo by Dawna Mueller)

     

    The CVRD will be hosting a virtual community information session on Wednesday, March 2nd at 6pm to provide a detailed overview of the project, and address any questions from the public. Residents can join the virtual meeting at the following link: https://www.cvrd.ca/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=2388 —or call-in to the meeting by dialling 1-844-992-4726 and using access code 2495 059 5567. 

    Respect for places like Taylor Park prioritize the need for a healthy and functioning wetland, for mitigating rainfall and for supporting fish and wildlife habitat. A nearby section of Renfrew Road washed out for the first time ever in November 2021, with the impact of that unprecedented climate event. A qualified environmental assessment is sure to reveal the importance of treading lightly where water must flow—preserving paradise over parking.

    Kim Barnard is the secretary of the Shawnigan Rotary EcoClub.

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