Stuart Kerr clears air during his mountain bike jump in Haro Woods Sunday. The District of Saanich has announced that it will continue to seek public input to help resolve disagreements over potential uses in the park, especially biking. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Battle over Saanich’s Haro Woods continues

Saanich extends process to determine appropriate uses for 5.6-hectare park

The future of a popular recreation site remains uncertain.

Saanich has announced months may pass until the completion of a management plan for Haro Woods.

The 5.6-hectare park with its mature Douglas firs is located off Arbutus Road in the Cadboro Bay neighbourhood, and has become a popular destination for walkers, joggers and cyclists, drawing users from inside and outside of Saanich. But this popularity has also caused environmental damage, while sparking conflict among users.

The draft management plan describes Haro Woods as a “healthy urban forest” that is a “functioning ecosystem that welcomes respectful use,” but the nature of this “respectful use” remains in dispute, with no issue more contested than the question of off-trail biking.

Megan Catalano, a Saanich spokesperson, said park staff have identified a need for more community conversations around potential recreation uses in the park, particularly biking.

“Staff will continue to hear input and conduct research,” she said.

Eva Riccius, Saanich’s senior parks manager, said opinions in the community over potential uses remain strong.

“We’re determining next steps in our engagement process to broker a shared understanding among park users,” she said. “This is going to take more time than we initially anticipated.”

The online survey was scheduled to close May 2, but it will now continue to seek online feedback.

“The process of more community conversations and research will likely take months,” said Catalano.

Earlier findings showed tentative support for a designated biking area in Haro Woods, but also acknowledged disagreements.

“At time of writing [in late 2017], the Haro Woods Advisory Group and the general public are divided on the off-trail biking issue,” the draft plan reads.

The biking area — if approved — would appear in a “previously disturbed area” of Haro Woods.

The report says a “biking area will only proceed if sufficient support is received,” with any specific plan subject to rezoning and a public hearing. If approved, this area would be subject to various conditions designed to cordon off the area and minimize environmental damage.

While residents appear to favour this solution, available evidence is hardly conclusive.

Just under 64 per cent – or 274 respondents of a non-scientific online survey – said they would use a designated biking area, with just under 27 per cent answering in the negative. The rest were not sure.

But the survey also suggests such a biking area would not necessarily address the problem. Almost three out of 10 respondents said such an area would not stop them from riding outside of it, with another 30 per cent not sure. Opponents, meanwhile, say that such an area would encourage only more off-trail biking.

The report also notes Saanich could prohibit damaging biking activity.

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