How we can find a balance between the benefits of public access to nature conservation areas, while minimizing our impacts on the values those places are meant to protect? This balance requires active effort by land managers, as well as cooperation from public park users. Part of being a responsible park user is learning how to enjoy these special places with a light touch. Thank you for reading this article and for your commitment to being a responsible user of public nature areas.
First, let’s start with the fun stuff. There are so many great reasons why efforts should be made to allow public access to conservation areas, despite the negative impacts and increased level of management required.
On Mayne Island, publicly accessible natural areas are available across the island in the form of Federal parks (Bennett Bay, Georgina Point), Regional parks (St. John Point, Mt. Parke), and Community parks (Mary Jeffery, Plumper Pass, Henderson Hill, Cotton, Dinner Bay, etc.) as well as beach accesses (owned by BC Ministry of Transportation but managed by Mayne Island Parks and Rec Commission) and conservation lands (Edith Point is owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada). Publicly accessible nature areas provide a number of benefits to the community. Walking and hiking provide opportunities for exercise to improve physical fitness. Getting out in nature offers places for relaxation and quiet to destress and improve mental health. Experiencing nature adds to the quality of our lives through cultural inspiration and a sense of connection with the natural world. When people get to experience and appreciate wild places, they are more likely to support efforts to protect them. We live in a place with a lot of natural beauty, and public lands provide a place where that beauty can be appreciated.
There are challenges that come with public access in nature conservation areas. They range from preventing things like soil compaction, invasive species spread, and wildlife disturbance, to managing visitor safety.
Overcoming these challenges is the responsibility of both land managers and park users, we all have a role to play.
What You Can Do to Help
Here are some things you can do to be a responsible park user:
- Stay on the designated trails. Our parks are visited by thousands of people every year, and that adds up to a lot of traffic. Foot traffic causes soil compaction and crushes native plants.
- Keep dogs under effective control. Our public parks are critical habitats for wildlife. Mayne Island is increasingly developed, and these animals have nowhere else to go. ”Effective control” means on the trail, and either on a leash or responding to voice commands. If your dog runs ahead and barks at people or chases wildlife through the bushes, it should be on a leash. Some parks such as Cotton Park do not allow dogs.
- Prevent invasive species spread. Especially from April through October, make sure plant seeds are not stuck to your clothing. Make it a habit to remove seeds regularly from shoes and clothing to prevent spread.
- Report dangerous situations. Most land managers rely on park visitors to report dangerous situations such as trees hanging over trails. Please remember you are responsible for your own safety when hiking in public parks. Use your judgement when it comes to safety. For example, do not hike in forests during wind storms.
- Volunteer! The Conservancy organizes regular work parties to removal invasive plants in most public parks on Mayne Island. This is a fun and healthy way to help steward these special places.
By being a responsible park user, you can help reduce the costs associated with managing public parks, which frees up resources to make new parks for you to enjoy! You will also help ensure these amazing places are still here in future for us and wildlife to enjoy. If you are interested in joining our team of habitat restoration volunteers, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trail work at St. John Point Regional Park
One of the motivations to write on this topic now is that the Capital Regional District is in the process of doing some trail work at St. John Point. Since St. John Point was purchased through efforts led by the Conservancy in 2017, public access has increased. This has created challenges related to soil compaction, vegetation trampling, and public safety. Many of the trails that existed already on the property, or which have been created by visitors since, are either too close to cliffs from a safety perspective, are causing erosion, or resulting in native vegetation being trampled. In some cases trails are too close to rare plant populations. For these reasons, CRD Park staff are working with the Conservancy to improve the trails at St. John Point for visitor safety and nature conservation.
We appreciate your assistance in helping us make St. John Point, and the other natural public spaces on Mayne island, places that can be enjoyed by our community as well as the wildlife that lives there.