Mount Douglas Park is more than a sought out hike, it’s a bastion of nature, a battleground between nature and city.
It’s the hill Saanich’s tree-hugging residents are ready to die on (not to mention its rich WSANEC history as Pkols).
And yet, it’s abused as a nursery for locals in search of native plants. It’s a convenient garbage dump for locals looking to dispose of old appliances and furniture. It’s a Christmas tree nursery.
Legally, it’s none of those things.
It’s a Saanich park, an iconic tourist spot and a hometown favourite and it’s also protected by law. Nothing should be left there and nothing should be taken.
But that’s not how it goes.
About 100 metres from the summit of Mount Douglas Park there is a Douglas fir. In the past three years the tree has been topped, twice. Both times, Darrell Wick noticed it was a fresh cut. Both times, it was mid December.
“You can tell by the diameter of the cut and the health of this tree this was an ideal Christmas tree,” said Wick, president of the Friends of Mount Douglas Society. “It’s right on [Churchill] road, so it’s easy for someone to pull up, cut it and drive away.”
Depending on the season, Mount Doug Park offers a lot. There’s all kinds of mushrooms. This reporter even witnessed a young family using a hammer and a chisel to remove rare tree mushrooms in September. Definitely not legal and according to Wick, who has put in a full-time effort to preserve Mount Doug since he retired as a Camosun instructor, it’s not cool.
Judy Spearing has been part of the Friends of Mount Doug’s many invasive pulling missions which have cleared holly and broom from acres of the park. It wouldn’t be the same park without them. Spearin’s seen people leave with fiddleheads, Christmas trees, cedar boughs for wreaths, beach material (driftwood, sand, shells, clams) and firewood.
If you take your kids to Fort Rodd Hill, you’ll learn the park rangers do not allow even a stick to leave the park. Not even a pine cone.
But at Mount Doug, Wick and Spearing have found evidence of cedar lumber removed by chainsaw. In one story, Saanich Parks staff caught a fella cutting cedar shingles on site.
Well, it wasn’t known as Cedar Hill for nothing.
“We’ve seen one-metre by 10-centimetre strips of cedar bark taken, and that is not the long strips First Nations use,” Wick said. “We find holes in the ground where ferns used to be, small trees such as arbutus or cedar, rare plants and bulbs, such as camas.”
Yes, the annual Christmas tree hunt at Mount Douglas is on.
Spearing hopes it isn’t going to catch on, and that most realize how illegal, immoral and brazen such an activity is.
And she really hopes the dumping will stop.
“An old freezer. Bed Frames. Couches. Boxes of clothes. What I’d like to see, what the Friends of Mount Douglas would like to see, is for Saanich to close the road after dark,” Spearing said.
At the moment, the gate is closed at night until 12 noon. But once upon a time, cars were mostly restricted from driving up Churchill.
Tree topping, rubbish and garden compost dumping is done in the evening when few people are around, Spearing says.
In January, a lot of trees are unfortunately brought back and dumped in the park, Wick said.
“So far this year there have been signs of native flower bulb removal on Little Mount Douglas, there was an excavation of a large sword fern, and a small arbutus was dug out,” Wick said.
Mushroom pickers come in the fall, fiddle head fern pickers will come in the spring. Berries that grow in the park are off limits, except they’re picked, and clam digging on the beach or any removal of sea life is verboten, but again, it happens.
“Even the holly that’s here, which is an invasive, is removed illegally. We pull the holly out but that doesn’t mean it’s open to the public to pick,” Spearing said.
Anyone who thinks the shiny, dark, green foliage of Daphne Laureola would be nice for flower arrangements could incur a sorry lesson on that plant, all parts being toxic.
Even if a tree is dying, its woody debris is essential for restoring soil nutrients, and for bug growth, which is beneficial for the ecosystem and for Douglas Creek’s young salmon.
What Wick would like to see is a steward program, wherein empowered stewards are able to walk the park and engage users, educating them while also enforcing illegal activity.
“If we could create a steward program and put up some signs, we could prevent a lot of this,” Wick said.