As the future of a popular recreation area in Saanich remains up in the air, local residents plan to keep a closer eye on it.
The District of Saanich has initiated the Haro Woods monitoring program, working with the Cadboro Bay Residents Association to have a small group of volunteers augment the data being collected by Saanich Parks staff over the past two months.
“Detailed inspections are conducted every two weeks, and damage to trees, vegetation and soils caused by unauthorized activity associated with the construction of bike jumps are recorded and repaired. Staff report that the level of this activity has largely leveled off since the initial surge at the beginning of warm weather,” said Gary Darrah, Saanich manager of park planning, design and development.
Located off Arbutus Road in Saanich’s Cadboro Bay neighbourhood, Haro Woods is a 5.6-hectare park which has become a popular destination for walkers, joggers and cyclists, drawing users from inside and outside of Saanich.
Its future remains uncertain after Saanich has announced that it will continue to gather public input on its proposed draft management for the park. Work on the plan started in September 2016 and will continue for months because of ongoing disagreements over whether Saanich should allow cycling in the park. Critics of cycling have argued that the activity would damage the area, while Saanich staff appear open towards the idea of allowing “recreational and family cycling.”
Gary Moser of the Friends of Haro Woods said the program aims to track changes in Haro Woods.
“There is no concrete plan for the development of this property, so there are competing interests,” he said. “Some people want bike jumps, and another group of people are saying ‘I don’t think that is a good idea for this particular property.’ All the monitors are wanting to do is to demonstrate some stewardship to watch the property, to see what is going on.”
Moser said the program remains in its early stages with some eight volunteers having shown interest so far, and it does not intend to be confrontational.
“It’s not as though everybody is getting a badge and a gun,” he said. “It’s just bunch a people who live nearby.”
An orientation session will be held with 10 volunteers in the next few days. Volunteers will be asked to report any new unauthorized digging or disturbance that may be impacting trees and vegetation. Volunteers are not to attempt to interact with, or influence any visitors they encounter.
“We have all agreed and understood that it is to be non-[confrontational],” said Moser. “Anyone who is acting in the role of the monitor is to be respectful of that. The plan is just to ensure that we are keeping track of what is being done, and not turn it into a contest of wills.”
Moser said monitors would not record the names of individuals who they might observe building ramps for bicycles, for example. “That is not part of the program,” he said.
While the monitors would take photographs, they would avoid confrontational situations with people. “People have a right to privacy,” he said.
It is not clear yet when the District of Saanich will come forward with a plan for the area. “The municipality, as I understand it, hasn’t made a specific time decision,” he said. “It’s something that they are going to look at I’m told in the fall. I don’t know what fall means.”
Overall, Moser said he hopes various users will be able to find some common ground when it comes to using Haro Woods in a respectful and fair manner.
“We got a jewel here,” he said. “It’s a very, very, very nice piece of property.”