Saanich has bought 31.4 acres of farmland in the Blenkinsop Valley as part of long-term goals to improve park and trail connections, and preserve the area’s natural environment.
Saanich now owns the majority of land around Blenkinsop Lake and a narrow swath around the entire agricultural property known as Beckwith Farm, located at the easternmost end of Beckwith Avenue and the Lochside Trail.
“We didn’t have trail connections between Beckwith and Valewood parks, and Lochside, so now we have much better access there,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. “Having a buffer around a farm is always a good thing. And then probably the most important benefit is the desire to own and control Blenkinsop Lake – now it’s in public hands. We have much more of an environmental amenity in public hands and public control.”
Leonard says the former property owners, Island Berry Company, initially approached Saanich about purchasing the entire farm, but Saanich had no reason to buy a blueberry farm.
The farm was instead sold to Steve Mann, president of Don Mann Excavating Ltd., who approached the municipality about purchasing the land he didn’t need that surrounds the property.
“We’ve coveted this for more than a generation. We were very fortunate to get that phone call from Steve Mann,” Leonard said.
Saanich has been working with the Manns and Island Berry Company since early March on the deal. The deal cost Saanich $1.25-million, which comes from two municipal park reserve funds.
According to a report circulated to council in March, the trail development – which won’t happen for a few years – will come at a significant cost.
“A preliminary estimate for trail construction from the Valewood Park neighbourhood to Beckwith Park and onto the Blenkinsop Lake area is $250,000,” the report reads. Connecting that new trail to the Lochside Trail (over Blenkinsop Lake) will require the construction of a raised boardwalk, which the report says could cost “in the hundreds of thousands.”
Rae Roer, Saanich’s manager of parks, says its hard to overstate environmental benefits of this acquisition. For one, the land will act a buffer between the valley’s agriculture operations and the urban neighbourhood.
“The lake is an important part of the watershed. Waters from that area connect to Blenkinsop Creek and down into Swan Lake and Swan Creek and ultimately to the Colquitz,” Roer said. “The secure up all riparian land around Blenkinsop Lake preserves all environmental interests.”
“While a small amount of potential agricultural land will be used for park purposes, this acquisition is almost entirely riparian areas, floodplain, and Garry Oak ecosystem,” the report reads.
Leonard says there are currently no plans to make changes to the land and build the trail system.
“Like Panama Flats and Haro Woods, securing the land is the most important thing,” he said. “This’ll take some years before we build a trail. We’ll want to talk with the neighbours and have consultations. Today we secured it, it’s very much into the future before we see anything there.”