When is a park not a park? In fact, what is a park?
Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia) says it’s a protected area, in its natural or semi-natural state, (or planted), set aside for human recreation and enjoyment or for the protection of wildlife or natural habitats. Both the Webster and Oxford dictionaries provide similar meanings for the word.
It goes on to note that many are legally protected by law.
Perhaps that’s where the problem lies—whose law? If it’s local government law, the province can apparently overturn it; take the parkland away from one set of local users and give it to another set of local users—or whomever.
So, don’t get too accustomed to your favourite park, because it may no longer be a park the next time you want to use it.
That appears to be what’s happened with a portion of the 250-hectare Rose Valley Regional Park.
West Kelowna council is strongly opposed to the province’s proposal to turn 698 acres of Crown land around Rose Valley Reservoir, including large chunks of the regional park, over to the Westbank First Nation in exchange for eight acres of reserve land which are being used for a new interchange on Highway 97.
Both West Kelowna and the regional district board say the province hasn’t included them in discussions about the land exchange, despite the fact that West Kelowna operates a water utility that relies on the reservoir and the regional district has a Licence of Occupation on one parcel of the Crown land for a park.
And, it does seem criminal for the province to take away a park when it already has an agreement with another body covering that parcel of land. Would that stand up in court?
Late Thursday, Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom said the watershed and reservoir would not be jeopardized by the agreement and that he feels it’s important that the park be maintained, perhaps by a co-management agreement with the WFN.
He also pointed out that there is no provincial dedication of that land as parkland, whether the regional district calls it one or not.
So here’s some history
I remember when a group of neighbours and outdoors enthusiasts rallied around to protect a little piece of property adjacent to the spring-fed Goldie’s Pond, which is beside Rose Valley elementary school in what is now West Kelowna.
A developer wanted to fill it in and build houses there.
It’s a pretty little pond with a wetland surrounding it that is extensively used by a wide variety of wildlife, including the dramatic yellow-headed blackbirds and their cousins, the red-winged blackbirds.
There were fund-raisers and much lobbying; there were T-shirts with the yellow-headed blackbirds on them and there was a campaign to save Goldie’s Pond.
The Nature Trust of B.C. got involved, and so did the Okanagan Region Wildlife Heritage Fund Society and the Central Okanagan Land Trust. There were other organizations and business that got involved and contributed to purchasing the land, but ultimately it was purchased and became a regional park.
It was just a small lot with a lovely little pond on it, but adjacent to it was a large piece of Crown-owned land that went up the ridge and down to Rose Valley Reservoir, a gem of a little lake pinched between the folds of the hills; created with a dam by the Lakeview Irrigation District early last century from a wetland, to provide clear water to the people of Lakeview Heights.
So, the regional district negotiated with the provincial government to add the upland wilderness to the little park around the pond so both wildlife and humans could enjoy the peace of a natural forest as part of their everyday lives, and to preserve a chunk of wild land.
After all, all those people had voted with the hearts, their minds, and even their wallets, in favour of preserving a bit of wilderness by protecting the little pond, so it must be a good thing to do, right?
However, the provincial government would never agree to a long-term tenure for the new park, just a license of occupation, which had to be renewed every 10 years.
So, what the people who use it believe is a wilderness park for their recreation and enjoyment; and a preserve for wildlife to conserve necessary habitat in an area that is rapidly being covered with asphalt and houses—is not really a park at all because the province can step in and take the land for development or some other use at any time.
And there are other “parks” that have similar uncertainties.
Robert Hobson, chairman of the Central Okanaga Regional District, is adamant CORD does not want to lose the park and that he doesn’t believe the province should be selling off land adjacent to reservoirs.
He is also concerned about the precedent this sets for removing land that is parkland for use for other purposes.
A portion of Cedar Mountain Regional Park, where the climbers’ playground is, part of the Crags, is also held under a license of occupation, so is parkland under uncertain circumstances too.
So is the upper portion of Glen Canyon Regional Park in West Kelowna; a portion of Antlers Beach/Hardy Falls Regional
Park in Peachland, a small acreage along phase two of the Mission Creek Greenway and foreshore licences throughout the region.
Crown land is owned by us, the same as regional parks are, but one of our two hands doesn’t seem to know, or care, what the other is doing. While one hand is giving, the other is taking away.
As parkland, these properties would remain in their natural states, for the use of wildlife and the enjoyment of all people, including members of the WFN.
I haven’t been able to get answers from the WFN about its plans for the properties, but I’m assuming that would no longer be the case.
We’ll all lose, if that’s so.
Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News