Preserving Gabriola from clearcutting and development
The controversial “parks in return for development” deal sought in the 1990s for the Weldwood lands in the centre of Gabriola Island, its rejection, and the subsequent clear-cutting of those lands by local loggers profoundly shocked our community and we became acutely aware of the lack of public land, trail access, and preserved ecosystems on Gabriola Island. In those days, there was no Cox Community Park, no Elder Cedar Nature Reserve, no 707 Community Park, no Coats Marsh Park, and there were many fewer legitimate public trails.
In the late 1990s and around 2000, members of the Gabriola Walking Group engaged in discussions about public trail access, as did the Gabriola Horse Group; and the Gabriola Land Conservancy people were advocating for the preservation of ecosystems on the island. They were all actively promoting ideas that later became central to GaLTT’s philosophy and action.
In 2002, the RDN purchased the lands now known as Cox Community Park on behalf of Electoral Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, and De Courcy Islands). The Electoral Area B Parks and Open Spaces Action Committee (POSAC) was inaugurated in June, 2003, providing an avenue of liaison between the RDN and our community. Several POSAC members recognised that a Gabriola community-based registered charitable society could be beneficial in fundraising and organizing volunteers for park and trail initiatives.
Through 2004 a group of Gabriolans coalesced to establish a registered society to advocate for more park and trail access, and to provide a vehicle to raise funds for land and trail acquisition. The Gabriola Land and Trails Trust was formally founded in the Fall of 2004.
The constitution and by-laws were drafted by founding members Carol and Stewart Boyce, Peter Drodzd, Ron Holmes, Andre Lemieux, Gail and Gus Lund, Kerry Marcus, Colin Masson, Gary McCollum, John McCormick, and Ernie Rushworth.
Community support was strong and more than 80 people attended the first AGM. Kerry Marcus was elected the first President, and Colin Masson Vice-president. Other elected board members included Marilyn Beaubien, Carol Boyce, Dyan Dunsmoor-Farley, Em Gavin, Nigel Hart, Ron Holmes, Bart Jessup, Paula Maddison, and David Swanson (who resigned after the first meeting post AGM). After the AGM, Richard Welsh was appointed to the Board to serve as Treasurer.
Then… and now
First steps—Cox Park
Our first project was in Cox Community Park: with RDN supervision, GaLTT and many dedicated community volunteers worked through the winter of 2004/5 to build a new trail parallel to Taylor Bay Road. The new “Yogi Trail” was officially opened in April, 2005. GaLTT continued to develop trails, and eventually signage, throughout the park, and to help build boardwalks over wetlands. Read the history of Cox Community Park with photos here.
Volunteer work parties—trail building & managing invasive plants
From the beginning, GaLTT has organized regular volunteer work parties to clear and maintain trails, setting an ambitious goal to have public trail connections from Descanso Bay to Drumbeg by the end of 2010—a project not quite completed on time, but negotiations with private landowners and government bodies continue for the very few remaining connecting segments.
For many years, most of the volunteer trail work parties were organized by Randy and Lynne Young. Rob Brockley and later Peter Danenhower and Barry Moerkerken continued that major work, and, like Randy, they also often ended up storing tools and materials for GaLTT as well as organizing and doing the hard work.
For years people crossed this gully in Joyce Lockwood Community Park rather precariously on a fallen log. In 2015 Randy and Lynne Young spearheaded GaLTT’s project to replace it with a proper footbridge, now named after them.
In 2016, GaLTT awarded honorary life memberships to Randy and Lynne in grateful recognition of their contribution to the development of Gabriola’s fine trail system.
Using our volunteers to conserve and connect
Toward the end of 2019, GaLTT recognized that some reorganization was needed if we were to fulfil our dual “conserve and connect” mandate more efficiently. The hard and popular volunteer work done by the Trail Maintenance committee had always included control of invasive species in public spaces and lobbying provincial and regional parks departments about the need to control them. To bring our organizational structure and volunteer force more in line with our dual mandate, we disbanded the Acquisitions, Conservation, and Trail Licences Committee; named two new committees; and redefined the work of the Trail Maintenance Committee:
- The newly named Conservation Committee continues to do all work relating to land acquisition and protection, including covenant management.
- A new Invasive Species Committee emphasizes and expands this important conservation work, using a fresh force of dedicated volunteers, working cooperatively with BC and RDN parks departments, and internally, with GaLTT’s Community Engagement Committee.
- The Trail Operations Committee continues their work developing and maintaining trails and boardwalks in public areas, working cooperatively with RDN and BC Parks Departments. In addition, the committee has taken over the management of trail licences which grant legal, limited public access across private land. Of course, they also build and maintain those licensed trails.
Negotiation and support for parks and conservation areas
707 Community Park
GaLTT played an important supporting role in the significant work done by the Islands Trust and the RDN in negotiation with three property owners, leading to a density-transfer rezoning agreement in September 2005. The agreement transferred about 707 acres (roughly 286 hectares) of previously logged forest land in the centre of the island to the community.
For the next couple of years, as the RDN developed a management plan for the new park, GaLTT and other community members and groups provided information, identifying and geo-referencing existing trails and significant environmental features on the land. Gabriola’s 707 Community Park has since been expanded to 425 hectares (1052 acres) of naturally regenerating forest high in the middle of the island, with a complex signposted trail system connecting to the village, to North Road, and to South Road.
Holding the map: Deb Ferens (Trustee) and Wendy Marshall (RDN Parks). Others L-R: Gabriolan Cheryl Boorer, consultant Wendy Farmer-O’Neil, Snuneymuxw Elder Jeff Thomas, consultant Dr Katherine Dunster, RDN Parks representative Elaine McCulloch, and RDN Director Gisele Rudischer. (Photo © Chris Bowers)
The 707 Acre Wood Community Park Management Plan sub-committee April 2, 2009 with a map of the new community park.
The Shingle reported that Dunster said: “…the subcommittee wants to hear what dreams the community may have for the park, but noted that there are zoning restrictions, and covenants and commitments made to protect the land that will have to be respected.”
Official opening of Coats Marsh, May 22, 2009. Gabriola Land Conservancy (GLC) initiated the acquisition and protection of Coats Marsh in 2005. The 46-ha park includes a rare 10-ha wetland, complete with a resident beaver. The Shingle newspaper reported that
- Millman said that “Setting aside and protecting natural areas is one of the best ways of investing in the future of our collective well-being.”
- Coats said “This is what I consider the most precious piece of land I have on Gabriola.“
- Stanhope described the new park as “…a fine representation of the fast disappearing dry sub-maritime coastal Douglas-fir forest”
- Walker said “This is a fantastic day for conservation, the people of Gabriola, the region, and the province”.
- and that “the dream of the park became a reality because the Coats family wanted to give back something to the community in perpetuity“.
S’ul-hween X’pey (Elder Cedar) Nature Reserve
GaLTT also helped the Islands Trust and the Land Conservancy in their campaign to establish S’ul-hween X’pey (Elder Cedar) Nature Reserve, which became the first Free Crown Grant received by the Islands Trust Conservancy (then called Islands Trust Fund) from the province. It protects a rare stand of old growth trees.
The dedication of S’ul-hween X’pey (Elder Cedar) Nature Reserve. On the left of the photo, L-R, Nancy Hetherington-Peirce, John Peirce, Sheila Malcolmson, Jennifer Eliason (manager of ITF, now ITC), 3 obscured faces, and Dyan Dunsmoor-Farley. On the right of the photo, L-R, Kerry Marcus, Jenni Gehlbach, a UK visitor fond of Land Trusts, and Nick Doe. (Photo © Chris Bowers)
Helping to buy parkland on Mudge and Gabriola Islands
GaLTT has contributed financially to the purchase of land for parks by the RDN; first toward the creation of Dodd Narrows Community Park on Mudge Island (2017) and then in 2019 toward the purchase of a 9-acre addition to the 707 Community Park adjacent to Coats Marsh Regional Park. See our Our Conservation Work for more details.
Planning and management
In 2008 GaLTT was awarded a contract by the Islands Trust Fund (now IT Conservancy) to help manage S’ul-hween X’pey, Elder Cedar, according to its official Management Plan, and another contract to control invasive species, help with signage in the reserve, and build boardwalks to protect sensitive wetlands from foot traffic.
Since the establishment of 707-acre Wood Community Park (now simply called 707 Community Park) in 2005, and Coats Marsh Regional Park in 2009, GaLTT has continued working with with the RDN in support of their park management plan objectives, particularly with respect to invasive plant control, trails, and signage.
Following the folding of Gabriola Land Conservancy in 2018 and their assets being transferred to GaLTT, GaLTT’s strategic planning has emphasized our focus on the conservation half of our unusual dual mandate.
You can look back through GaLTT’s history in its Records. Here you’ll find minutes from AGMs and board meetings, our annual newsletters, and copies of documents publicly stating our position on various issues.