Haro Woods will remain open to family cycling, but stay closed to off-trail bicycling under a draft management set to go before council next month.
The long-awaited, long-delayed draft management plan for Haro Woods recommends that the area retain its current zoning, which allows among other uses “recreational family cycling.” It also confirms the current ban on off-trail biking and jump building, while setting aside additional resources for measures that improve access to existing trails, way-finding, and the local ecology.
Pending council’s approval, the draft management plan pulls together a lot of different strands in satisfying most users, said Eva Riccius, Saanich’s senior parks manager.
“It does lay out a really good future for the park,” she said.
Located off Arbutus Road in the Cadboro Bay neighbourhood, the park is a destination for walkers, joggers and cyclists, drawing users from inside and outside of Saanich.
It’s popularity has also caused environmental damage, while sparking conflict among groups of users, and the future of the park remained uncertain after Saanich staff delayed the release of a management plan to solicit more input over the question of allowing cycling in the park. Ultimately, the draft management plan comes down against off-trail biking – a central source of contention.
Riccius confirmed staff considered the possibility of allowing off-trail biking, but support was insufficient to move ahead with the necessary rezoning. “We heard clearly from the community that is not something that they wish to see,” she said. Earlier in the year, Saanich staff acknowledged that off-trail biking had become a de-facto use of the area in noting that enforcement is “an issue as there are only [two] dedicated [bylaw] officers in Saanich, according to minutes. This said, staff also left open the possibility of introducing some regulatory regime.
The draft management calls on Saanich parks and recreation staff to sweep the area at least twice each week to monitor it for off-trail biking and jump building. Parks staff, however, will not be able to issue any tickets, should they catch off-trail cyclists in the area. Only bylaw enforcement would be able to do this, said Riccus.
This regular presence, coupled with improved signage and monitoring from neighbourhood residents, are elements that will dissuade off-trail cyclists, she said.
“To me, it’s not about enforcement,” she said. “It’s about encouraging compliance.”
Reactions from available sources have been largely positive.
“Friends of Haro Woods are very glad to see the revised draft management plan and we respect the difficult work that the Advisory Group has done in ensuring Haro Woods remain a P4-N natural park,” said Katrina Madsen.
“That was our goal all along this difficult two to three year process since the park was established,” said David Minty of the Friends. “It was unfortunate that Saanich allowed so much trail building over the last number of years knowing that it was an illegal activity.”
This said, Minty said he welcomes seeing new nature interpretations signs, park benches for wildlife viewing, and the general restoration of the forest over time. The plan also calls for the eventual restoration of Finnerty Creek.
Saanich owns two of the four lots that make up the area of some 5.8 hectares in size. Capital Regional District and the University of Victoria own the two other lots, with both committed to maintaining public access across their parcels to achieve a functional trail system.