COLUMN: Barriers to park could spell the end

Reporter's Viewpoint

In 1996 the Bulletin ran an April Fool’s Day story on a suspension bridge project linking Nanaimo with Newcastle and Protection islands.

The story quoted a source in the provincial government stating vehicle access to the harbour islands will allow everyone to enjoy the true beauty of Newcastle and provide those on Protection with easy access to Nanaimo.

While we strived to go as far overboard as possible on the story so readers would soon realize it was a joke, there is something to be said about easier access to Newcastle Island so more can enjoy this provincial marine park.

I’m not advocating for a foot bridge connecting the island to Nanaimo – the size of it would  have to be huge to allow a continual flow of water traffic, not to mention the possibility of dogs killing the wildlife or vandals destroying the infrastructure – but there has to be a better way to allow people access.

As it is right now, unless someone has access to a boat, they have to rely on a ferry for transportation back and forth.

The first problem I have with that is cost. The cost for a return trip is $9 per adult, $8 for seniors and $5 for children 12 years old and under.

So for a family of five, it’s $33 – more if one or  two of the kids happen to be teens – just to get on the island.

If that family wants to ride their bikes around the park add $1 each to the fare. If camping is their goal, add $2 each for transporting equipment.

And while camping fees have nothing to do with ferry costs, the family has to shell out $16 a night to pitch a tent and $6 per bundle of firewood from April 1 (no joke) to Oct. 15.

Thankfully, camping fees drop to $11 a night from Oct. 16 to March 30.

But wait a minute, the ferry only runs May 13 to Oct. 10 according to its website, so please refer back a few paragraphs to having access to a boat to enjoy the island.

Some might argue the cost of enjoying Newcastle Island is no more than going camping at any other provincial park.

That may be true, but at least one has an option to take in a park any time of the year. Here, we’re left standing on the dock come November, gazing across the water at what’s been described as the jewel of Nanaimo’s harbour.

And if it is a jewel, it’s looking a bit tarnished these days. My last trip over gave the impression of slightly rundown facilities showing their age and in need of some care.

But where is the money going to come from to keep the facilities up? It’s going to take people using the park to prove that it’s busy enough to warrant spending money on upkeep.

But if the cost of getting to the island is a hindrance, how are the people going to get there? You can’t blame the company that owns the ferry for wanting to be successful.

The problem is fewer passengers means higher costs for the company and that means raising the price to cover the losses and higher prices means fewer people. It’s all a big catch-22 circle that we Vancouver Islanders see all the time with B.C. Ferries.

It’s time the provincial government stepped in to help Newcastle remain the jewel of our harbour.

Premier Christy Clark pulled the parking meters out of the provincial parks last month, saying they contribute to a healthy lifestyle, protect the environment and are important to the economy. She wanted to eliminate any barriers to using the parks and make them even more welcoming to families.

Well, that body of water between Nanaimo and Newcastle Island is a heck of a barrier that does little to make one feel welcome.

A little help would go a long way to break the circle and return the island to its glory days.

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