Although the Cowichan Lake Community Garden has yet to settle on a new location, baseball and softball players from throughout the area are pledging to assist the gardeners during this transition period.
At the town’s Aug. 2 parks, recreation and culture committee meeting, Michelle Davis of the Lake Cowichan Slo-pitch League made a presentation to council highlighting the popularity of ball in Lake Cowichan and the importance of the planned Centennial Park developments. The meeting was packed with an audience represented predominantly by members of the ball community although there was also a contingent of garden supporters.
“We’re at this meeting tonight to show support for the current project as has been planned for the past five years and to ask council to continue with the current timeline so as not to be in jeopardy of losing the much-needed grants to bring this project to completion,” Davis said during her presentation. “This popular sport is much in need of a facility with more than one playing field and lights to enable evening games and double-headers.”
The Lake Cowichan Slo-Pitch League is over 35 years old and currently has 10 teams and 180 members, ranging in age from 16 to 60.
Davis said it would be a mistake to interpret a lack of use at Centennial Park as a lack of interest in or support for the sport. The poor conditions of the grounds have made playing there impossible, pushing the league to use CVRD fields in Mesachie Lake and Youbou.
Following Davis’ presentation, council discussed a report about the community garden’s relocation by the town’s contract planner James van Hemert in which he recommended the garden be moved to one of three possible locations: Cowichan Park (west of the tennis courts on Cowichan Avenue), the Lake Cowichan School site or in the grassy park adjacent the Cowichan Lake Marina parking lot.
Councillor Bob Day apologized for the situation the garden now finds itself in and said the town never should have provided them that space.
“I’ve got to say if nobody else wants to admit it: we made a mistake. We didn’t work from a survey drawing, we worked from a concept drawing,” he said. “I’ll take blame for that because I advocated for that spot on behalf of that group because that was the spot they felt was best.”
Day asked why the town can’t phone the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program (which is providing the grant for Centennial Park’s upgrades) and request a slight change to the project plans, allowing a 20-space parking lot to be replaced by the community garden.
He also asked that council make time before next year’s budget to explore the possibility of repaying some of the $24,000 in grant funding the community used in its early stages of development.
Chief administrative office Joseph Fernandez said he did not think the Canada 150 grant would be approved if the town made a request to change the project’s design.
Mayor Ross Forrest expressed frustration about a series of angry emails he’d received from garden supporters.
“I’m quite concerned about this. I’m also a little disappointed that it’s got to this stage, because when we allowed the community garden to go to Centennial Park they knew there was a possibility they’d have to move if we got the grant,” he said.
Forrest said he was also disappointed by the amount of water the community garden has been using, which he said was approximately three times that of an average household’s monthly water usage.
During the public questions portion of the evening, several members of the Lake Cowichan Slo-Pitch League offered to help the community garden during its transition to a new location.
“What if a few of us volunteered and helped to move the community garden?” asked league president Ryan Rai.
Michelle Davis was another of the ball park supporters who voiced a desire to work collaboratively with the community garden.
“We do have money in our account that possibly we could make a recommendation to donate money as well, whether it go to the field or the moving of the community garden,” she said.
Cara Smith, spokeswoman for the community garden, did address some of council’s comments during the question portion of the meeting. She said the garden group tried to keep track of the water usage, but because it was being read manually they weren’t always able to find out what the water usage was.
In a message posted later that night to the Cowichan Lake Community Garden’s Facebook page, Smith said she felt she had made an error in judgement during the site selection process.
“Many people did not become involved with the garden until after the site choice had been made… so their anger and disbelief when they first heard the sad news is understandable,” she wrote.
Smith also acknowledged the presence of the slo-pitch league at the meeting and said while some garden supporters have expressed concerns the new field will be under-used, she is convinced that will not be the case.
“The ball players generously offered to help us get through the next step in whatever ways they can, it is amazing to me how well the people in the Cowichan Lake communities support each other.”
Since the Aug. 2 meeting, Smith said other possible locations for the garden have been identified by the town and community garden.
Town staff have also drafted a set of guidelines for community garden use on town lands. As of press time, it has yet to be voted on by council.