UPDATE: Campers impacting ecologically sensitive Cuthbert Holmes Park
The president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association is calling on Saanich council to ban camping in Cuthbert Holmes Park and other ecologically sensitive areas.
President Rob Wickson says he's found a collection of tents hidden from view, makeshift walkways constructed over the wetlands, and a large pile of garbage. He says campers use generators and gasoline, and have no toilet faciltities to use. He says Saanich council has been aware of the situation for some time:
" Last fall I took 5 councillors, including the mayor, on a tour and within probably 100 feet of Montana's we found 5 camps. Full camps. Some of them had been there as long as 3 years."
The park is home to a Great Blue Heron rookery, a fish-bearing creek, over 120 kinds of birds and river-dependent animals, as well as native wildflowers. Saanich's own website encourages users to stay on trails, avoid disturbing Colquitz creek and wildlife, and prohibits smoking in the park.
And yet -- Wickson says council is doing nothing to stop the destruction of the habitat:
"That is the issue. I'm not dealing with homelessness issues here because that's a different issue. This is the fact that people are in our natural habitat and willfully destroying that habitat. That has to stop."
Wickson points to the city of Victoria's efforts to keep campers out of certain parks, and says Saanich needs to do the same.
But Mayor Richard Atwell says Saanich prefers to seek a social solution. He has a meeting scheduled with Housing Minister Selina Robinson March 12th where he will press for help in finding housing alternatives.
Atwell also says banning campers could lead to legal issues, as it has in other jurisdictions.