Mary Lake in Highlands is part of the greater Millstream watershed. The Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society aims to protect the area as a park.

Mary Lake in Highlands is part of the greater Millstream watershed. The Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society aims to protect the area as a park.

Greenbelt Society to take over Highlands lake property

Organization plans to preserve area as a public park

A nature park at Mary Lake in Highlands is one step closer to becoming a reality following the Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society’s (GVGS) acquisition of the property for $2.6 million.

Over the last six months, the society was able to raise $1.3 million through donations and partnerships, including a $100,000 contribution from GVGS chair Bob McMinn. The closing date on the purchase is Dec. 23.

The organization will now work to pay down the remaining $1.3 million in a similar fashion, before work can be started to get the park ready for public access, at which point it will be turned over to the District of Highlands as a municipal park.

The ultimate goal is to preserve the land as a 73-acre nature park anchored by Mary Lake and including surrounding forests, creeks and wetlands.

There are a few key aspects that make this an exciting project for both the Society and the District. The park will become the first with lake access in the western portion of the District, and it is being touted as an important environmental project.

“It’s sitting right in the middle of the Millstream watershed,” said Society spokesperson Koi Neah, noting that the watershed has been around roughly 13,000 years. “And (it) is not just what you see on the surface, it’s also the water tables and aquifer that are part of that, and it goes right down from the Todd range to the Esquimalt Harbour.”

Neah said it’s very important to protect the area from development.

An ecologist recently surveyed the area and found seven different ecosystems on the property, from dry coastal Douglas fir ecosystems to rocky outcrops and wetland areas.

“A lot of those ecosystems are set up in a particular combination that’s becoming really rare,” Neah added.

In addition to environmental considerations, the park will be fully accessible for those with mobility issues, as there is already a path that will permit access.

The ultimate plan is to have the park connect existing trail systems in Thetis Lake, Gowlland-Tod and Mount Work regional parks, creating a 25-kilometre hiking loop.

“That’s really important because it’s such a great loop. It goes through really spectacular scenery,” Neah said. “A lot of people are really looking forward to that.”

And while the future park is expected to provide recreational opportunities, including swimming, the goal remains to preserve its natural beauty.

“We’re definitely going to be stressing that aspect, because there’s a lot of little creatures that people don’t even notice that get really impacted by human use,” Neah said.

The timing of the purchase worked in the Society’s favour, as the original price tag of $4.6 million was brought down by $2 million after 20 acres were sold to a separate developer.

For more information on the park project, visit marylakeconnections.ca.

joel.tansey@goldstreamgazette.com