Locals who frequent Cuthbert Holmes Park are asking Saanich authorities to take action about the permanent campsites set up in the park.
Some of the current campers have been there for years, and their sites are getting out of hand in terms of size and scope and the damage is taking a toll on the sensitive ecosystem that is Cuthbert Holmes, said Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association.
Thanks to Parry's Hauling for helping with the Cuthbert Holmes Park clean up today! pic.twitter.com/eeB6i6wZAu
— Saanich PD Bikes (@SaanichPDbikes) June 2, 2017
It’s also not a new issue, as campers have stirred a community reaction before.
“We have found campers in the park recently with pallets placed over wetlands so [they] can walk along to the pallets to get to a hidden camping spot,” Wickson said. “I’ve been back there, there are huge garbage piles, and you can hear a motor running from a generator. This isn’t an overnight camp, it’s permanent.”
One of the more established camp sites was moved recently due to the construction of the new berm from the McKenzie interchange project.
Of additional concern is the salmon counting ladder, and the fact Colquitz River and Cuthbert Holmes is supposedly a federal bird sanctuary.
“People shouldn’t be allowed to stray from the main trail network,” Wickson said.
There’s also a pile of bike parts, or a bike chop shop, which doesn’t surprise Wickson but is disappointing and questionable.
Saanich Police’s community engagement division, also known as the bike patrol, are known to frequent Cuthbert. They know the campers by name and over the years have helped some of them make the transition into housing. It goes above and beyond their mandate, and Wickson doesn’t expect the police to solve this on their own.
The behaviour is beyond that of overnight campers seeking emergency shelter, which people seem to forget, is the essence of the Supreme Court ruling that has led to regular park camping and Tent City, Wickson said.
So this week Wickson and the GTCA put pressure on Saanich, as did long time park activist Dorothy Chambers, to do something about the ongoing damage at Cuthbert.
In the meantime, Saanich Parks has arranged for regular clean-ups. But there are still too many sites, said Chambers, who is the lead steward for the volunteer Colquitz Fish Fence project.
There’s also been incidents of aggressive campers in recent years.
“One camp alongside the river has been there since last October, just upstream from the fish fence, and the children endured ugly comments about their voices at the fish fence visits when the campers hollered at us in the mornings,” Chambers said. “It got so bad that I know of one neighbour who is becoming a private vigilante and has spoken to many of the campers about their behaviour.”
Another long time park advocate, Julian Anderson, has maintained a consistent approach that without a solution, campers will only return. Anderson said once the vegetation is cut the soil becomes compacted. At that point, even if the campers are moved along, the sites remain disturbed and ready for someone else to move in.
Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff agreed the issue of campers in Cuthbert Holmes Park has come to a head.
Brownoff believes a solution is on the way in the form of a report from Saanich Parks and Saanich Police that could lead to an action plan.
“The community is not pleased with it, there are many issues and legally they shouldn’t be there,” Brownoff said. “Technically you can’t camp in the park, so how do we manage it, it’s a provincial issue. If we try to move them out they’ll move to other parks.”
Mount Douglas Park and UVic have had a few similar problems though not to the extent of Cuthbert Holmes, Brownoff noted.
“I think the reason it has so many issues is [Cuthbert] near things, a shopping centre,” Brownoff said. “The police and Parks are trying to come back to Saanich council with something. As a council, we will look to support it.”