Inattentive users. Damaged vegetation and soils. Invasive plants. A creek experiencing erosion.
These are just some of the issues that confront Haro Woods, a wooded area in Cadboro Bay near the University of Victoria that has become a popular community space over the decades, perhaps to the detriment of the park itself.
Its future promises to become more concrete on Nov. 9 at Goward House from 4 to 8 p.m., when the District of Saanich will present its plans for its portions of the woods. Saanich owns two non-contiguous parcels that cover three three-quarters of the park. The Capital Regional District and the University of Victoria each own one. While the plan deals with the two Saanich-owned parcels, it also refers to the parcels that the CRD and UVic owns.
“This plan strives to accommodate visitors of all ages, and resolve long term issues in Haro Woods Parks, primarily user conflicts, invasive plants, and impacts to soils and vegetation that unmanaged off-trail biking and jump-building has caused,” it reads.
Gary Darrah, Saanich’s manager of park planning, design and development, said perhaps the most controversial issue concerns users, mostly youth, who use the woods for off-trail biking, constructing trails and jumps that damage vegetation and roots along the way.
According to the District’s draft management plan for the woods, off-trail biking and jump-building has been happening throughout the woods for many years. While Saanich has responded to concerns by removing the jumps and meeting with youth, these efforts have proven ineffective, as jumps continue to appear, the report says.
Efforts are now underway to find a more sustainable solution. “We are trying to find a balance to accommodate them, but in a way that is less harmful to the forest,” he said.
Three other issues also loom large. One is the formalization of the trail system. A system of informal trails has developed over all four parcels. “These trails reflect desired travel lines between residential areas, institutional lands to the north-east, adjacent schools and daycares, Goward Park, bus stops, and the University of Victoria,” the report reads. “The Cadboro Bay Local Area Plan envisions creating an east-west connection to contribute to a larger greenway system in the long term.”
This system of informal trails, however, is in need of structure, said Darrah. “Continued use and accessibility of the woods by the general public is a key objective,” it reads in the report. “However, there are no official recreational amenities in the park. Trails are not wide enough to allow cyclists and pedestrians to pass side by side, and some park users are upset by the damage off-trail biking and jump-building causes to vegetation and soil.”
Another issue concerns the prevalence of invasive plants that have spread across the under-story of the forest growing underneath the tree canopy. Invasive plants, the report reads, are present on all parcels but are most dense on Saanich’s western-most lot where English ivy, Himalayan blackberry and spurge laurel have had a long “continuous” history.
“If left unchecked, [invasive plants] can totally overwhelm local plants,” said Darrah.
Another important issue concerns the state of Finnerty Creek running through the woods. Unregulated use has damaged the banks of the creeks, said Darrah.
This damage has made the creek banks susceptible to erosion in case of heavy rain events that ultimately make it more difficult for soil-stabilizing vegetation to establish itself, said Darrah.