It's volunteers — like Gail Nash (left)

Great Lake Walk cancelled for second year in a row

Great Lake Walk: Society chair fears the event may never happen again

The Great Lake Walk is seemingly at the end of the road.

For the second year in a row, the event has been cancelled and society stalwarts are fearing it may never happen again.

“We just haven’t had the numbers we need, in terms of people registering and coming out for it,” said Great Lake Walk Society chair Joan Hieta. “I think it has ran its course.”

The event was a 56-kilometre walk starting at Youbou Community Hall and participants would then walk or run around Cowichan Lake and finish at the community hall in the town.

It happened on the third Sunday of September each year but was also cancelled back in 2013.

“We tried a team thing last year to try and get the numbers and hype up where basically we put people into teams in terms of the number of seatbelts in a car, say there was six, and then they could split up the 56 kilometres however they wanted. It was a pretty gruelling walk,” said Hieta.

That plan didn’t come to fruition either but although Hieta and company see the end as near for the walk, the society will still remain open for the time being.

“I really can’t see it happening again but we’re not going to close the society or do anything drastic incase somebody else comes in and makes some kind of breakthrough,” said Hieta, who also confirmed the society’s finances are in a poor state with very little left in the pot.

“Last year we had issues of all sorts and it was like it was trying to tell us that we were done. We had a lot of issues. Different sponsorships didn’t come through and rest stops backed out at the last minute. One of our major outfits that brought a lot of walkers and medical personnel also backed out.”

Whether the walk will be reborn again in time for 2015 has not been discussed.

Nevertheless, Hieta wishes to look back with fond memories even if the walk has had its last hurrah.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t think it’s going to start up again. It’s been such an awesome event and a very difficult decision. It raised a lot of money for charity. Sometimes things just take their toll.”

Lake Cowichan lady Gerry Knott, wife of town fire chief Doug, walked in the event every year since it began back in 2002.

“I’m disappointed (it has been cancelled again) as I walked right through it every year,” said Knott. “I trained throughout the whole year for it and I really liked walking in it. The camaraderie and the enthusiasm coming from the volunteers particularly at the rest stops was always amazing.”

Linda Blatchford, manager of Cowichan Lake Recreation, also wants to see the Great Lake Walk have a rebirth in the near future after partnering the event since the get-go.

“CLR partnered with the Great Lake Walk Society at the very inception of this annual event (planning began in 2001 for the first walk which was in September of 2002) to provide assistance to bring it to the Cowichan Lake area. Volunteers could not do it without us and we certainly could not do it without them so we worked together on this idea and made it happen.  It was a true partnership,” said Blatchford in an email.

CLR is a division of the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Department and aided the walk with equipment supplies such as tables, chairs and sound, year round storage for GLW equipment, set-up and clean-up as well as running the sign-in station, amongst other things.

“I sat on the board of directors of the society as a volunteer as well as the liaison to Cowichan Lake Recreation. I was one of the founding members of this event and was the co-chair for the past few years.  At the end, there were two original members left as directors:  Bertha Gravelle and myself.  We worked over the years with a number of dedicated and hard working volunteers.”

Blatchford voted against cancelling the 2014 GLW but was one of only 10 directors that did so, much to her dismay.

“I am very interested in keeping this event alive and wish to remain a director on the Great Lake Walk Society. It is my hope that some of the current director’s will remain on the board and that perhaps new volunteers may be interested in getting this event back up and running.  I plan to re-instigate discussion around this issue very soon.

“Sponsorship dollars are needed in order to cover initial expenses (advertising, website maintenance, facility rental fees, etc.). Volunteers are needed to solicit these sponsorship dollars. Costs related to the safety, and health and well-being of participants and volunteers are expensive but extremely necessary (insurance, food, first aid supplies and first aid providers, shuttle busses around the lake during the entire event, fencing rentals at the finish site, portable toilet rentals etc.). These costs could not be excessively trimmed because there is a duty of care to our participants and volunteers and a need to mitigate any kind of legal action that could happen to the society and its directors should an accident or incident occur.”

The society fell short of its minimum required number of registrants for 2013 by about 100 and as well as costs, the fall of rest stations was a big reason behind the most recent cancellation.

“Rest stations around the lake were a huge important part of the event and fell under the safety, health and well-being of participants. They were strategically placed in order to allow for food, water and washroom breaks as well as the opportunity to rest or to get first aid attention.  We relied heavily on volunteer businesses/groups to run these rest stations. In 2013, due to unforeseen circumstances, we had a number of groups drop out a few weeks before the 2013 walk leaving the society scrambling to find replacement groups to run these stations.  In order to resurrect  this event, we would need renewed commitment of volunteer groups to man the rest stations,” said Blatchford.