Letter: RDCO evades questions, petition on park caretaker cancellations

Resident caretakers are being evicted from regional parks … RDCO board not allowing 700-name petition to be presented.

To the editor:

What is happening with our regional parks and why are the directors of the Regional District of the Central Okanagan (RDCO) — and our Kelowna councillors on the board — not answering serious questions about the changes that are being made?

Resident caretakers are being evicted from regional parks as of Nov. 30 including Mission Creek, Bertram Creek and Woodhaven in Kelowna; Kopje and Reiswig in Lake Country; and Gellatly in West Kelowna. Why is this happening? Several people in the community have been asking this question for the past six weeks and we are no closer to an answer than we were six weeks ago. There are many questions about the wisdom of this decision, the process through which it is being implemented, and the future plans which seem to be shrouded in mystery. These are just some of the many questions:

1. Why is there such a lack of transparency about our publicly owned parks? What is the basis for this decision, what are the plans for the parks, and why is the RDCO board and its staff refusing to answer questions at a public board meeting?

2. Why are our councillors not asking for a clear accounting of the bylaw enforcement and policing costs that will be downloaded onto municipal systems when there is no onsite oversight of the parks? Five caretakers will be removed from parks within the Kelowna city limits. Why are the Kelowna councillors not questioning this decision on behalf of park users and neighbours of the parks?

3. Caretakers were put in the parks originally because of a record of vandalism and misuse in the parks — what has changed in Kelowna or the Okanagan in general? If anything the threat of misuse and the danger of fire is worse.

4. How will the valued cultural heritage assets in the parks (the Raymer-Burbridge cabin and flume in Woodhaven and the Gibson House in Kopje as well as Gellatly) be appropriately protected without onsite and resident caretakers?

The RDCO administrators and managers are proposing to dismantle the resident caretaker program that has been in place since the early 1970s, a program that was developed for the parks originally because of many incidences of vandalism, misuse and abuse in the parks. As recently as 2014 in the Johns Family Nature Conservancy plan, caretakers were at the heart of the management plan for a new park. What has changed in less than two years? Why is the board refusing to hear from the people? I have twice requested to be a delegate to the board to present a petition with over 700 signatures and I have been denied. I have appealed those decisions but I have not yet heard back.

The caretakers do more than open and close gates. They protect the animals, plants and neighbourhoods in and around these special parks. We shouldn’t be changing the policy around this program without a proper assessment of its value and a transparent and open discussion about the future plans for the oversight and stewardship of the parks. People who would like to get updates on the push to get answers and to preserve the resident caretaker program, can go to our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/keepcaretakersinparks/ or sign the petition “Keep Caretakers in Regional Parks” at change.org. And contact your RDCO directors and keep asking why this is happening.

Nancy Holmes, Kelowna