Saanich is defending itself against charges of manipulating plans for Haro Woods in favour of allowing biking in the area.
“At this point, we’re planning our way forward and no definitive decisions [about biking] have been made,” said Gary Darrah, manager of park planning and development.
“A potential option might be to consider some biking in a designated area of the park, not throughout the full woods, as a pilot project. Whether this is considered further will depend on continued engagement in the community.”
Darrah made these comments after Saanich announced that it would continue to solicit public input on the future of Haro Woods and after receiving criticism around its handling of the question of whether Saanich should allow biking in the area, and if so, where.
Gerald Graham, a Saanich resident who lives in the area and is familiar with the issues, said Saanich’s public consultation has been a “sham” because Saanich has been trying to “ram through” biking.
“They basically wanted to accommodate it [biking],” he said. Specifically, he notes that Saanich’s environment and natural area advisory committee was going to endorse a pilot project for biking in the area following a presentation after the third and final open house.
A non-scientific survey finds some support for “creating an area where people may ride, and build tracks and jumps as they please (a ‘biking area’) subject to conditions.” This biking area would appear in a “previously disturbed area” of Haro Woods. However, this same survey also expressed reservations about allowing it in Haro Woods in any form.
For Graham, genuine consultation would have consisted of presenting the public with choices about permissible activities.
“What they need is a consultation process that starts from scratch,” he said.
Council was set to receive the draft management plan on May 28, following two years of public consultations. “But due to the lack of shared understanding among stakeholders around recreation uses in the park, we decided to continue to gather public input and extend our survey,” said Darrah.
“Despite all of these public engagement activities undertaken, we’ve identified a lack of consensus in the community on the issue of biking in the park,” he said.
Accordingly, Saanich continues to solicit feedback, a process that may take months.
The 5.6-hectare park with its mature Douglas firs is located off Arbutus Road in the Cadboro Bay neighbourhood, and has become a popular destination for walkers, joggers and cyclists, drawing users from inside and outside of Saanich. But this popularity has also caused environmental damage, while sparking conflict among users.