Gabriola has several different types of parkland: provincial parks, regional district parks, some of which are community parks, tiny neighbourhood pocket parks, and one Islands Trust Fund nature reserve.
In answer to GaLTT's query about the difference between a park and a reserve, Kate Emming who is an Ecosystem Protection Specialist for the Islands Trust Fund wrote:
"The philosophy behind the distinction is in the intended primary use of the land. The Islands Trust Fund Nature Reserves are intended to be for the conservation of the natural values of the land rather than for public recreation and use. A good comparison comes from the BC Parks system which has "parks" and "Ecological Reserves." Our Nature Reserves are closer to an "Ecological Reserve." Having said that, the Trust Fund Board does recognize the importance of human access to nature and so does not restrict public access in its Nature Reserves. We do, however, try not to advertise them so that the use is kept light."
Gabriola has three provincial parks, all with beaches. None of them allow overnight camping, but they all have picnic areas.
Gabriola Sands (locally called Twin Beaches)
The 6-hectare Gabriola Sands Provincial Park is at Twin Beaches in an area long used by Gabriolans and visitors for picnics. It became a park during the 1970s when the Twin Beaches subdivision was being developed, but it has been a gathering place for people for time immemorial because it is on the site of a significant Snunéymuxw First Nations village, facing both Taylor Bay and Pilot Bay, where the Spanish explorers arrived.
The government website describes the park as "an ideal place to relax and enjoy a picnic or swim". It has safe, sandy beaches, picnic tables, a grass playing field, and pit toilets. The isthmus with its sandy beaches is unusual in the Gulf Islands, and provides an important ecosystem for migratory birds.
At the southeast end of the island is 20-hectare Drumbeg Provincial Park, established in 1971. The Government website describes it as "a favorite spot for diving, hiking, nature viewing, and picnicking". Much of the park is forested, but one end of the park overlooks Gabriola Passage, which has extremely strong tidal currents, and there are picnic tables and pit toilets close to a swimmable sandstone beach not far from the parking lot.
The park has a Garry Oak meadow system with camas lilies, which has been badly invaded in recent years by Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry. The edges of the forest have also become infested with periwinkle and toxic Giant Hogweed. GaLTT teams have been working with provincial staff to rid the park of these invasive plants.
In 12-hectare Sandwell Provincial Park, a steep forested trail leads down to a long sandy beach on Lock Bay, looking out across the Strait of Georgia. The park was established in 1988 to protect a shell midden and a petroglyph that can be approached only at low tide. There are picnic tables and pit toilets near the lovely swimmable (no lifeguards!) beach.
Regional parks and reserves on Gabriola Island are administered by RDN Parks Services. Parks are designated either Regional or Community Parks. Some electoral areas (including our Area B: Gabriola, Mudge, and De Courcy Islands) have Parks and Open Spaces Advisory Committees (POSACs) that include community representatives, and a program of park development and maintenance.
After a successful referendum, in 2002 the RDN borrowed $500,000 to purchase the Gabriola land now called Cox Community Park. They bought the land from the Community Credit Union, and at the same time, they spent another $500,000 of regional park funds to buy what became Descanso Bay Regional Park.
Descanso Bay Regional Park
This 16-hectare oceanside park has Gabriola's only public campground with forested tent and RV sites. There are gently sloped sandstone beaches in three coves that are sandy at low tide, offering abundant oysters. There are good trails through its forests, and because it is adjacent to Cox Community Park, the trail system extends inland.
Coats Marsh Regional Park
This 45-hectare parcel of forest and wetland is situated southwest and kitty-corner from 7-acre Community Park. It was acquired from the Coats family in 2008 through a partnership between the Nature Trust of BC, the RDN, and the BC Trust for Public Lands. It has a significant wetland and a rare stand of coastal Douglas Fir. No formal trail system has been developed in it yet, but access points to it from Coats Road are shown in the map below of 707-acre Community Park. A management plan is being developed by the RDN, which says the following about the park's historical and ecological significance:
"Prior to its designation as a Regional Park, Coats Marsh RP was a parcel
of farmland owned by the Coats family and known locally as the Stump
Farm. Recognizing the significant conservation value of the property,
Clyde Coats donated half the value of the current Coats Marsh RP parcel
to The Nature Trust of BC (TNT) through the Environment Canada
Ecological Gift's program.
Although Coats Marsh Regional Park is largely undeveloped with no formal
trail system, signage or amenities, evidence of the park's history and
former uses are found throughout the site. An old abandoned barn and a
small log cabin located in the northeast corner of the park (the Stump
Farm) are remembered by local residents as the site of a commune in the
1960s and 1970s, and concrete foundations for both a radio tower and
electrical shed in the south end of the park are remnants of a radio
station that was operated by the previous owner in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Coats Marsh property has recovered from a series of human activities
including logging, burning, draining and flooding; it is now
a peaceful place where indigenous plants and wildlife thrive and where
local residents come to appreciate the park's natural beauty and to
remember with affection its endearing and eclectic past."
Aula Bell and Neil Aitkin wrote in "Gabriola Placenames" that John Olsen cut poles along the Akenhead Trail before buying the Gabriola land that became Stump Farm and cutting poles there. In the early 1940s, a major forest fire destroyed his pole pile and he sold the land to Bill Coats.
Community parks are acquired through land development, purchases, donation, or transfer of crown land from the province. Each electoral area in the RDN can have community parks, but their park budgets vary. Gabriola currently has 27 community parks, six of which are waterfront parks. Two (Cox and 707-acre Park) are significantly large, but most are very small "pocket parks"—the smallest being only 0.1 hectare.
Cox Community Park
In 2002, the RDN purchased the land that became Cox Community Park—this link takes you to a more detailed history of the park's early days. Community involvement in the park's development was formalized in June 2003 with the inauguration of Electoral Area B's POSAC.
Community members worked with the RDN to identify and brush out a new section of trail 400 metres long to connect a new park entrance at River Place with the existing main park trail to Taylor Bay Road.
Photo by Judy Preston
In the Fall of 2004, the newly formed GaLTT worked with community volunteers and the RDN to clear a new "Yogi Trail" parallel to Taylor Bay Road, and it opened the following spring. They have continued to help maintain trails and build boardwalks throughout the park, and provide signage.
707-acre Community Park
This park is Gabriola's largest (just over 280 hectares) and is situated at the highest part of the island. It became possible when the Islands Trust and the RDN negotiated a density-transfer rezoning agreement in September 2005 with three property owners, Glenna Borzuk, Don Gately, and Mike Jenks. The agreement transferred about 707 acres of previously logged forest land in the centre of the island to the community.
Map of Coat's Marsh Regional Park and 707-acre Community Park
from the RDN Park Management Plan
As the RDN began to develop the 707 management plan, GaLTT and other community members and groups made suggestions and provided information, identifying existing trails and significant environmental features on the land. The forest is being left to regenerate naturally while allowing safe trail access to walkers, cyclers, and horseriders. GaLTT continues to work with the RDN to help with trailwork, signage, and invasive plant control.
There are also numerous "pocket parks" all around Gabriola Island. Some, like the one near the schoolbus shelter on South Road downhill from the Community Hall, are quite tiny. Most often they result from agreements to provide some green space when subdivisions are built. Usually they are left in a wild state, but sometimes neighbours "adopt" them, keeping them trimmed and free of nuisance plants.
ITF's Elder Cedar (S'ul-hween X'pey) Nature Reserve
The Islands Trust and Gabriola's Land Conservancy worked for many years to establish the Elder Cedar (S'ul-hween X'pey) Nature Reserve in 2006. This 65-hectare forest was the first Free Crown Grant received by the Islands Trust Fund from the province. If you want to know how to pronounce the Hul'qumi'num name of this reserve, S'ul-hween X'pey, click here.
The Elder Cedar Reserve includes both young and mature forest, including the last remaining stand of old-growth trees on Gabriola. There are wetlands scattered throughout, several small streams, and high biodiversity, including some rare species.
In 2008 GaLTT was awarded a contract to help manage Elder Cedar according to the ITF's official Management Plan, and another contract to control invasive species and help with signage in the reserve. The protection covenant on ITF's Elder Cedar Nature Reserve is co-held by GaLTT and NALT; GaLTT signed the covenant at their AGM in February 2012.