After an 11-month hiatus due to COVID-19, the Regional District of Nanaimo is resuming development of its regional parks and trails strategic plan.
At the May 4 regional parks and trails select committee, RDN directors listened to a presentation from consultant Megan Turnock of Lees and Associates, who is leading the community engagement and development of the plan.
The process began in the fall of 2019 and was able to complete a first round of community engagement before being disrupted.
“It was really evident through all the engagement methods that protecting natural areas and continuing with acquisition was important,” Turnock said.
Engagement highlights included interest in trails that connect communities; improved access to waterfronts and mountains; acquisition to support climate change resilience and partnering with other organizations to maximize limited budgets.
“We’ve all seen how the demand for parks and trails has sort of exploded over the last year,” Turnock said. Part of the next round of engagement may include an online survey that asks participants how COVID may have altered their use and importance of parks and trails.
At this time, the draft strategic plan has six main goals: protecting natural and cultural areas though acquisition and partnerships; contributing to health and well-being of residents; improving equity and access to parks and trails; engaging residents and supporting partners and volunteers; incorporating a climate change lens into all aspects of planning, design, operations and maintenance; and maintaining the sustainability of parks service staff and resources.
Some of the suggested actions toward implementing the goals include establishing a biodiversity strategy.
“The biodiversity strategy should give you a map of priorities and potential connections and as you work towards acquisition you can start filling in the gaps,” Turnock explained. "You can identify where those key connections are, where are the wildlife crossings, how you create a system that’s more resilient by looking at it more holistically.”
Vanessa Craig, director for Electoral Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, DeCourcy) and chair of the regional parks and trails select committee, told the Sounder she wants to see a “proactive strategy” applied to the parks system in the RDN that would prioritize habitat types and areas the RDN wants to purchase as well as plan how to connect parks and natural areas across the region, from the RDN’s community and regional parks, to municipal- and provincial-owned ones, to land held by conservancies and trusts.
“This type of strategic planning is even more urgent given the increasing development pressures in the region,” she said.
“The likelihood of Area B being the site of another regional park is small – not impossible – just because we don’t have many opportunities left in the area to purchase large tracts of land,” she continued. “However, I feel that a regional park system is very important and I continue to support the idea.”
Some directors wondered how the strategic plan will balance the tandem goals of promoting accessibility and use with protecting natural and cultural areas.
”It’s definitely a challenge,” Turnock responded. “It does get down to the detail level in terms of managing specific sites.” Conservation zoning that only permits certain uses can address some of that, she said, but “people want to go where they want to go…. Identifying ways to manage those folks is critical.”
A second round of primarily online community engagement is scheduled for this summer after which a final draft is expected to be presented to the regional parks and trails select committee this fall. Check getinvolved.rdn.ca for engagement announcements.
Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder