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$21 million for parks, but no new land: CRD

Jun 16 2012

The Capital Regional District expects to spend $21 million creating parks and trails in the next five years, according to a strategic plan released Friday.

Anticipated population growth and urban development in the region, particularly in the West Shore, will have a profound impact on existing sites, the report states, indicating a need to provide more.

Population in the region is expected to reach 475,000 in the next 25 years, an increase of more than 100,000, which will put additional demand on the existing park system.

Despite the pressures, the CRD board is focusing on building parks and trails on existing land because there is no money to buy new property until 2016.

"That really is the biggest tension we have at the CRD with regards to parks," said Geoff Young, chairman of the CRD board of directors.

"We know we have to spend money developing parks and trails - but at the same time, we're under pressure to acquire new lands. If we don't acquire them now, the opportunity may be gone forever."

The CRD bought 4,480 hectares of land in the past 10 years, depleting its acquisition fund until 2016. By 2014, the annual contribution to the fund from property taxes will reach $3.5 million, a rate that is expected to be maintained until 2019.

The E&N trail is the most prominent of the trails and parks coming online in the next five years. Three of five building phases are expected to be completed by 2016, with the first phase opening this year, according to the report.

Also in the works are the Sea to Sea Green Blue Belt, 10,000 hectares of wilderness and park land stretching from Saanich Inlet to the Sooke Basin; facilities at Jordan River Regional Park Reserve; and the opening of Matthew Point Regional Park Reserve.

The CRD also plans to connect the Trans Canada Trail to the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

Increasing park and trail space will relieve the pressure on some busy areas, said Lloyd Rushton, the CRD's general manager of parks.

Demand on the current trail system has increased dramatically over the years, with the Galloping Goose and the Lochside Regional trails being the most popular.

The number of commuting cyclists has dramatically increased in the past decade, Rushton said.

Counts at the Selkirk trestle on the Galloping Goose show an average of about 970 cyclists passed by every day in 2011, according to CRD statistics.

Overall visits to parks and trails reached 5.45 million in 2011, an increase of 4.5 per cent from 2010.

Increased traffic puts a strain on the overall budget as the parks department has to provide more services such as garbage pickup and bylaw enforcement.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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