Kathleen Burton, executive director of Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, with Swan Lake behind her. Saanich Monday agreed to spend up to $534,000 towards replacing the floating boardwalk on which Burton stands.

Saanich floats funds for Swan Lake nature sanctuary

Society managing the floating boardwalk says it will continue to fundraise

Plans to replace the floating boardwalk around Swan Lake received a major lift Monday as Saanich agreed to spend up to $534,000 towards the project.

Council unanimously approved the measure following a recommendation from staff.

Valla Tinney, Saanich’s director of finance, said in a staff report that this figure would allow the project to proceed without further delay, while the society finds alternative funding. “The current structure is past end of life and requires considerable volunteer time to maintain,” she said. “As safety of the structure is a growing concern, timely replacement is advised.”

Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary Society manages the floating boardwalk on behalf of Saanich. The estimated cost of replacing the structure hovers around $800,000. The society has so far raised some $350,000 through its Give-a-Sheet campaign to replace the current cedar boards with fibreglass sheets said to be longer-lasting and eco-friendlier.

Council last September tasked staff to develop funding options after hearing from Kathleen Burton, executive director of Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary Society, and Haji Charania, president of the North Quadra Community Association. Both asked Saanich for help. Councillors at the time signalled their support, citing among other concerns the potential of legal exposure and volunteer exhaustion.

“This is a great use of that particular fund, and it certainly had a lot of support from the community,” said Coun. Fred Haynes, who signalled out Charania for his role in raising this issue.

Coun. Dean Murdock agreed. “We have challenged the [society] to do some pretty important work, and they have shown that they are up to the challenge,” he said. “But they need a shot in the arm to make this work. They are managing this asset on our behalf, and it makes a lot of sense to use this community contribution in a way that will be a long term benefit to the community in this area.”

Speaking before the vote, Burton thanked Saanich. She said the society would continue to remain creative in raising funds and doing everything possible to keep the boardwalk accessible. In fact, Burton last month ate six mealworms to raise $3,000, an occasion several members of council referenced during Monday’s meeting. Mayor Richard Atwell asked how many mealworms Burton would have to eat to cover Saanich’s contribution.

Burton said that she would eat a big plate of them, but hoped Saanich would not insist on it.

“They are disgusting,” she said. “They don’t taste good.”

“We don’t want our volunteers to burn out,” said Coun. Fred Haynes.

Tinney said the funds themselves come from Saanich’s land sale reserve fund, whose purpose “closely aligns” with the proposed use. She also confirmed that the society would continue to fundraise. “That is why the motion is up to that amount of [$534,000],” she said. “It will be adjusted according to the fundraising that is accomplished, up to the point they actually complete the project.”

The money is not taxpayers’ money. Rather, it comes from community contribution that Saanich has collected from Rainbow/Christmas Hill development.

The new boardwalk will be above water, thereby serving as a wildlife corridor for muskrat, otter, waterfowl and other creatures. It will also feature ‘teaching pods’ where visitors can learn more about Swan Lake and its unique ecosystem.

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