Group forms to protect Pioneer Park

NANAIMO – Meeting today (July 14) will formalize executive,fundraise to hire environmental lawyer.

Vanessa Goodall cuts branches off a pine tree during a volunteer permaculture work party at Pioneer Park last fall.

Vanessa Goodall cuts branches off a pine tree during a volunteer permaculture work party at Pioneer Park last fall.

A group of north end residents has formalized efforts to save a small, triangular piece of urban forest.

Friends of Pioneer Forest was officially formed Sunday with nine founding directors, who approved the constitution and bylaws of the new organization.

Spokesman Dominic Jones said the group felt its concerns regarding the future of the property weren’t being properly considered. By creating a formal organization, Friends of Pioneer Forest hopes to access funding to hire an environmental lawyer while bringing people together around a common cause.

“Our single objective is to find a way to preserve Pioneer Forest as a park in perpetuity and we’ll be looking at various ways to do that while working with the city, the school board and the province,” said Jones, adding that so far none of those organizations have provided much co-operation in communicating.

“We’ve pursued legal advice because this issue is extremely complicated.”

Pioneer Forest, located at May Bennett Pioneer Park, is a 3.2-hectare tract of forest in the city’s heavily developed north end. The park was recently designated as a municipal off-leash dog area and is also used extensively for exercise and recreation.

“It’s extremely popular with seniors who want to walk a forest trail because it’s flat and accessible,” said Lynn Kropinak, a Friends of Pioneer Forest director.

The group fears bulldozers could be moving in because Nanaimo school district, which owns the land, has proposed changing its current parks and open spaces designation to neighbourhood.

If that change goes through, the district or another owner could apply to rezone the land to include development.

“That’s the biggest uncertainty at this point,” said Jones.

In 1984, the province sold all of the land at May Bennett Pioneer Park, including Pioneer Forest, to the city for $1 under the condition the property be used for public recreation.

In 1996, the city subdivided the land into two parcels – currently the sports fields and skateboard park and the forest – with the Crown grant still intact.

In 1997, the city transferred Pioneer Forest to the school board for $800,000, and the Minister of Environment of the day cancelled the Crown grant on the forest portion to allow for educational opportunities. Building an elementary school on the site was considered, but later deemed unnecessary due to declining enrollment.

When the city introduced Bylaw 4500 last year, a sweeping new zoning bylaw, Pioneer Forest was one of a few properties in Nanaimo overlooked to have its zoning reconsidered.

“It’s somewhat convoluted at the moment,” said Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan. “We’re in the process of trying to figure it all out. Back when the city sold the land to the school board, the zoning should have changed because you can’t sell off parkland. So now it’s school board property and is zoned parkland, and we can’t designate property as parkland if it isn’t ours, so there is a catch-22 thing.”

The school board has made no indication what it intends for the property, but Friends of Pioneer Forest isn’t taking any chances.

On Saturday (July 14), Friends of Pioneer Forest invites the public to an open house at 3 p.m. at the rugby club house at Dover and Dickinson roads to formalize the formation of the organization and raise money to make a contribution to the Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund as part of an application to West Coast Environmental Law.

The event includes an interpretive walk through the forest at 3:10 p.m., a general meeting and a potluck dinner at 5 p.m.

Jones said with Woodgrove Mall, the Island’s largest shopping centre, just around the corner, the designation of Dover Road as corridor which will attract more businesses and residents to the area, and an already densely populated neighbourhood, parkland will be more important than ever.

“We’re going to have a lot more people moving here in the future and we’re OK with that,” he said. “But they’re going to want accessible parkland as well, and we want them to be able to enjoy this forest as we do now.”

The issue is expected to be before city council later in the summer.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com

Just Posted

A section of the rail corridor on Vancouver Island. (Black Press file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Put rail trail right overtop of the tracks

Removing tracks would be a horrendous expense, says letter writer

District of Lantzville Mayor Mark Swain, left, and Snaw-Naw-As Chief Gordon Edwards sign a memorandum of understanding outside Snaw-Naw-As Market on Friday, June 18. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Lantzville and Snaw-Naw-As sign memorandum of understanding

District and First Nation create joint working group

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Tilray announces new line of products offering more inexpensive choices for medical cannabis users. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo-based Tilray launches new medical cannabis product line

Symbios brand products offered at ‘better price point’ for medical cannabis products

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Janice Coady, left, Aimee Chalifoux and Linda Milford at a vigil for Amy Watts on Wednesday, June 16, outside Nanaimo city hall. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
‘We need to do better,’ says mother of woman killed in Nanaimo

Vigil held for former outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found downtown June 3

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

The B.C. Ministry of Education has announced close to $44 million for the province’s schools for COVID-19 recovery. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school stakeholders say COVID-19 recovery funding can make a difference

B.C. Ministry of Education announces it expects a ‘near-normal’ return to class in September

Most Read