On a crisp, but sunny morning following the official opening of Fisherman’s Wharf Park, Susie Collins strolls the grounds with her dog, Oliver.
“It’s lovely and it’s a great improvement,” she said. Where it was just a field before, she added, the new landscaping creates interest that will lure people in.
Gravel pathways wind through newly-created hills and a bridge spans a man-made gully, dug to catch rainwater. Native plant beds, paved plazas, rock walls and a sandy “beach” have replaced the previously flat, grassed surface.
The $1 million total cost of the project has been spread over three years. Its completion marks the latest in a flurry of big upgrades to several city parks.
Other recently completed projects include the new Cecelia Ravine Park in Burnside-Gorge, which includes a bike-skills course, and a complete overhaul of Oswald Park in Oaklands.
People living in the vicinity of one of these parks have watched the city’s investment turn underutilized spaces into very popular outdoor amenities. Few people, however, realize the scope of the city’s recent focus on parks.
A lot of the work has flown under the radar, said David Speed, assistant parks director. “No doubt, this has been a busy, on-the-ground development year.”
Parks director Kate Friars said the projects were completed with no additional funding and were made possible, in part, with amounts carried forward from previous years.
For many years, the city was creating plans for parks but not carrying them out, she said.
“We said, ‘let’s now sit down and systematically implement these things.’”
Parks capital expenditures have generally ranged between $1 million and $2 million in the past decade, but saw a low of $421,000 in 2004 and a budgeted high of $5.16 million this year. The latter figure includes $2 million set aside to acquire park space in Burnside-Gorge to replace a playlot removed for the Rock Bay Landing housing project.
Not everyone is pleased with the changes – or the expense associated with the Fisherman’s Wharf Park. “We’ve removed a huge grass area (that is)cheap to maintain and facilitates healthy, active lifestyles,” resident Pierre McFarlane, wrote in a letter to the News. He questioned spending $650,000 to build the new rain garden.
Coun. Chris Coleman said the water-management offered by the rain garden will help to reduce insurance premiums paid by the city to cover flooded basements in the rainy season.
People often point to the parks department as the first place to cut back the budget, he said. “I don’t think that we should be trying to cut back in that way because I think that’s how you build communities that are multi-generational … thriving, viable, livable neighbourhoods.”
With six significant upgrades completed and three in progress, the pace of new park initiatives is expected to slow down. “Next year will be more of a planning year,” Speed said.
In 2013, the department will focus on creating a management plan for the Dallas Road waterfront, encompassing issues around erosion, endangered species, parking, dogs and Clover Point. Also expect a plan for Pioneer Square to come before council. If approved, construction could begin in 2013.
City of Victoria parks projects completed, with total cost, in the last two years:
• Fisherman’s Wharf Park: $1,000,000
• Cecelia Ravine Park: $120,000
• Oswald Park: $250,000
• Pandora Green: $500,000
• Cridge Park: $122,000
• Balfour playground: $50,000
• Cook Street playground, Victoria 150 legacy project: $300,000
• Chandler-Gonzales pathway: $250,000
• Beacon Hill Park traffic plan: $25,000