Committee approves region-wide parks and trails strategy

The Regional District of Nanaimo’s region-wide parks and trails strategy has been approved at committee level.

While a handful of directors on the regional parks and trails select committee voted to defer approval of the final plan, which has been in process since 2019 and included a delay due to COVID-19, the 130-page strategy will now go to the board of directors for final approval.

The strategy outlines a 20-year vision as well as a unified approach to planning, developing and managing regional and community parks and trails over the next 10 years. It is broken down into seven goals with implementation over the short term (one to four years), medium term (four to seven years) and long term (seven to 10 years). The total implementation cost, in 2022 dollars, of all the action items is estimated at $2.94 million, which does not include capital or operational costs.

The seven goals are to strengthen partnerships with other governments, including First Nations, as well as landowners and non-profit agencies; collaborate with First Nations on park planning and design; identify and preserve important natural areas through parkland acquisition; protect and enhance natural parkland through management and restoration; provide well-maintained and diverse amenities; enhance and develop trail connections; and increase volunteering, learning and programming opportunities.

Cost-wise, the biggest action items include creating a parks and trails volunteer program ($600,000), completing a parks and trails master plan for each electoral area ($525,000), updating park management plans related to sensitive ecosystem preservation ($750,000) and, in collaboration with First Nations, incorporating cultural education and interpretation into park design and development ($250,000). Many of the deliverables would be split between regional and community parks budgets.

“This is an overall document driving toward that 20-year vision, but takes place in stages,” Tom Osborne, RDN general manager of recreation and parks, said. “More information would be provided in those actions as they’re brought forward” year to year.

Electoral Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, DeCourcy) Director Vanessa Craig, who chairs the regional parks and trails select committee and voted to approve the plan, noted the plan’s changing perspective on the purpose of parks, particularly when it comes to future acquisitions. “Maybe the parks system originally was really focused on recreation, but there is increasing recognition of the importance of conservation and there will potentially be some properties that are acquired as parks that will be for conservation reasons and will not have recreation or will have extremely limited recreation,” Craig said before the vote.

“I think this has been a very robust process with community engagement and the input of electoral areas and I agree the issue of finances will be coming forward on a recurring basis for each of the items.”

Updating park management plans, for example, is expected to cost $75,000 each, and would include hiring a consultant. The rate of completion would be one plan per year.

As more people move to the area and there is greater use of parks and trails, it is estimated that staffing would need to increase by one person every three years. Currently the RDN employs one manager of parks services, two parks superintendents, four park planners and five park operations staff in addition to the general manager of the department.

“We heard through public engagement there is an increase in the use of our parks,” Yann Gagnon, manager of parks services, said. “We need more boots on the ground for the maintenance of our parks.”

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder