Park partners play pivotal role

Community members working to enhance city's green spaces.

Charles Thirkill

Charles Thirkill

City parks are gathering places, areas to unwind and reflect or toss a Frisbee with the family on a sunny summer afternoon.

And volunteers are an essential part of maintaining those parks.

“Everybody has their neighbourhood parks and lots of people are using them to reflect – there is a tremendous feeling of belonging,” said Charles Thirkill, field coordinator of the Harbour City River Stewards.

Most people might not realize that volunteers work countless hours in the city’s green spaces to ensure the areas thrive. Individuals and community groups often work in tandem with parks, recreation and culture staff to maintain the areas.

And the city can’t do it alone. It could take an entire summer in one park with all the city’s resources to remove some of the invasive species, and that might only make a dent in the problem, said Thirkill.

“It’s slow, painstaking work, backbreaking – and it’s community work,” he said. “We own the parks collectively, and I see it as one of the social responsibilities.”

Partnerships in community parks are creating flourishing natural spaces that allow people to get up close with nature.

One example is the Bowen Park Millstone River side channel project built in 2007. The project was a collaborative effort between the City of Nanaimo, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, community groups and volunteers.

The channel was created to enable coho salmon to avoid the waterfalls on their way upstream to spawn.

Thirkill said the channel was constructed to be as natural as possible and people travelling through Bowen Park now might never know it was carefully engineered.

Before the channel’s construction, volunteers dug up and preserved native plants – including about 200 sword ferns – and later replanted them along the river banks to prevent erosion.

During the spring and summer months Thirkill works with students from high schools to remove invasive plants from Bowen Park. He said the students are happy to help and the activity makes them feel they’re having an impact on the world.

His main contact is through high school eco-clubs, such as the Dover Bay Secondary Eco Club. Students who contribute 30 hours receive a certificate for their graduation portfolio.

Members of the Volunteers in Parks program are also removing invasive species from parks and performing other duties such as neighbourhood playground development and boulevard tree planting.

For more on the Harbour City River Stewards please e-mail For the Volunteers in Parks program, please call 250-756-5200 or go to