Easy to spot, and easy to talk to, visitors to Mount Douglas Park will likely run into one of two dozen ambassadors who take turns walking the park’s trails this summer.
The volunteers wear reflective vests and in addition to offering conversation, trail advice and directions, they provide information about park etiquette, watch for issues that require parks staff and pickup debris along the trails.
The new Mount Douglas Park ambassador program is going well, says Darrell Wick, one of the dozen volunteers.
Visitors often ask simple things, such as trail recommendations or which trails lead to the summit. At the summit, there are questions about visible destinations, such as where in the panorama is downtown Victoria, or what is the height at the summit.
Saanich Parks launched the four-month pilot program this year and will review it to determine its effectiveness. Among the volunteers, Wick is also president of the Friends of Mount Douglas Park Society, which lobbied to create such a program.
People can be apprehensive, especially if they know they’re doing something they shouldn’t be, such as smoking in the park. So the ambassadors, including Wick, are polite in their approach.
“All etiquette is conveyed in an informative and friendly manner,” Wick said. “Despite some litter issues in specific areas, the park and its trails are really quite clean and the vast majority of park users truly respect the natural park and take care of it.”
Still, there are times that someone needs to be approached. People who enjoy smoking in the outdoors in which case, Wick tries to be respectful, “You probably aren’t aware smoking is not allowed in the park, especially because of the high fire hazard.”
Ambassadors, after all, are volunteers and have no enforcement role.
For the most part, it’s common sense such as packing out anything you pack in is common sense. Yet litter is a problem.
“By far the most common [litter] is cigarette butts,” Wick said. “There are a couple of ‘hidden’ smoking areas where a lot of butts are found.”
In one spot, ambassadors counted 43 cigarette butts over two days, and 68 in another location.
“With the fire danger, these are especially problematic. Those that I have encountered, after a friendly chat explaining the fire danger, are very cooperative,” Wick said.
Another constant problem is the dog poop bags. While there are plenty of responsible dog owners there are still some that don’t monitor, or remove, the dog’s excrement from the trails.
Some move it to the sides of trails, where it accumulates and stinks, and where another set of volunteers, the invasive plant pullers, often step in it. Worse are the very few dog owners who actually bag the poop but then throw the bag into the understory where it hangs on a branch and becomes exposed when the leaves drop in the winter, Wick added.
Otherwise, parks visitors seem very positive and receptive towards ambassadors. Many say “thanks” and ambassadors are complemented when visitors see them pick up litter, he said.
Rogue trails are an issue and visitors should stay on named and marked trails, but it’s also a bit difficult because rogue trails are not currently marked as such. That’s a catch-22, will some people mischievously use them who normally wouldn’t have just because they’re marked?
Wick also reminds folks that plants and flowers are not to be removed from the park, though many visitors are from out of town and don’t know what a Garry oak is.
“There is general disgust with litter and not comprehending why anyone would litter,” Wick said. “On the positive side, overall, the park and trails are exceptionally clean. Walkers really appreciate and enjoy that the road is reserved for walkers and cyclists every morning. “