The heat is rising again in the Shawnigan Lake community over plans for phase three of the Shawnigan Village Rail Trail.
The proposed SVRT extension project is an approximately two-kilometre multi-use public trail that is being planned by the Cowichan Valley Regional District within the E&N rail corridor next to Shawnigan Lake, between Mason’s Beach Park, Shawnigan Wharf Park and Old Mill Park.
The project, which is the third section of the ongoing trail project at the lake, has been identified by the district as an important community pathway connection opportunity within the Shawnigan Lake community parks and trails master plan that was developed, with input from the community, several years ago.
The CVRD has earmarked $650,000 from Community Works Gas Tax funding for phase three of the project in its draft budget for 2022.
But there is a lack of support for the project from some neighbours, while many others in the community are firmly behind it.
Peter Nash said he and his wife Moira live along the stretch of the rail corridor where the proposed trail route would bisect their property.
He said the couple owns the land on the lake side, and their property has a “hooked parcel” which gives them the right to enjoy both sides of their land.
“The construction of this trail would possibly need fencing, cutting us off from our lakeside property,” Nash said.
“As well, the Shawnigan Basin Society has detailed the amount of riparian destruction that would occur, should the CVRD proceed with this portion of the trail. It also makes sense to wait for the decision regarding whether or not the train will run again, which is due in about a year. If the trail was to go on the tracks, the cost would be substantially less.”
Tom Buss said he has lived on his property next to the lake for decades, and has had to clean up lots of discarded garbage on his beach front, and also has had motors and boats stolen from his dock.
“I can’t help but feel that if this trail goes through as planned, these problems will increase and the privacy of the property owners along the phase-three stretch will be lost,” Buss said. “Also, if the proposed trail does go through, we, and other waterfront-property owners, will not be able to access our waterfront, which is one of our biggest concerns.”
Buss added that an even bigger issue is the environmental damage the trail expansion could cause.
“The loss of wildlife and vegetation and sediment damage from bringing in fill for making this trail will be substantial, as it is a sensitive riparian area,” he said.
But Shawnigan Village resident Ron Wurtz said he fully supports the project and its construction should not be impeded or halted by a small number of adjacent homeowners who misguidedly believe their property extends across the railway tracks right down to the shoreline.
“I understand their concerns are loss of privacy and the fear of trash being deposited along the way,” Wurtz said.
“I would point out that there are trails throughout B.C., some of which I have tread, that do not get littered and I have never noticed anyone straying off the paths. Nature lovers, hikers, cyclists, trail walkers and handicapped people like me are inherently respectful of the trails and do not litter or stray from the bounds of the trails.”
Resident Glenn White said he often uses the lake’s trail system and encourages the CVRD to move phase three of the project forward as quickly as possible.
“I really support us getting this trail up and operational,” he said. “It will be highly valued by the community and people like me. It is one of the ways that as a community we can ‘run’ into friends and take time to chat as we walk along the trail.”
Sierra Acton, the CVRD’s director for Shawnigan Lake, said one of the key issues the community has struggled with is access to safe outdoor recreation opportunities.
She said people don’t feel safe walking, running and cycling along the shoulders of many of the roads in the community.
“Trails like the SVRT provide safe and accessible recreation opportunities to our community, especially young families, older adults and anyone with mobility issues,” Acton said. “The SVRT itself is exceptional because it connects three of our major waterfront parks, the village core and the community centre together. In addition to providing a safe alternative to walking or cycling along the side of the road, the SVRT will provide fantastic views of the lake and waterfront access to the thousands of residents that live in or near Shawnigan Village.”
Acton added that the SVRT has been in the community plans for a decade, and most of the community is pleased with the work that has been completed so far.
“There is a small group of vocal opponents who own summer homes or live near the third phase of the SVRT,” she said.
“I’ve done my best to address their concerns, however, regardless of my best efforts, it is clear they will always oppose the trail. Currently, the CVRD is doing their due diligence and are waiting for a design and environmental report for the portion of the trail from Government Wharf Park to Old Mill Park. I welcome additional community input and questions on this and other trails in our community.”