Old Baldy Mountain now belongs to the Shawnigan Lake community.
This week, the Cowichan Valley Regional District announced it had paid $1.5 million to a private landowner to purchase 100 hectares at the top and on the western slopes of the mountain, located on the east side of Shawnigan Lake.
Over the years, Old Baldy Mountain has been logged and threatened by development proposals, said Sonia Furstenau, director of the Shawnigan Lake Electoral Area.
“The community of Shawnigan Lake can celebrate knowing that this beautiful backdrop to the lake, captured in the works of renowned artist E.J. Hughes, will be protected in perpetuity,” Furstenau said.
“Conservation of Old Baldy Mountain as a local natural park also contributes to the overall watershed protection objectives for Shawnigan Lake and signifies the true direction the Shawnigan community wants for its future.”
The community raised close to $75,000 to acquire the land. The regional district also used reserve funds from Shawnigan Lake Community Parks and took out a small loan, which will be paid back over the next five years.
Old Baldy’s summit rises 458 metres above sea level and has stunning 360-degree views of Shawnigan Lake, the Koksilah River watershed, Sidney, Salt Spring Island and some southern Gulf Islands.
Preserving Old Baldy as a nature park and protecting its sensitive ecosystems has been a high priority for Shawnigan Lake residents for years, said Brian Farquhar, CVRD manager, parks and trails division. Small native plants and mosses grow on the exposed rocky outcrops along its western and southern slopes. Older second-growth forest grows on the northern slopes.
Protecting these features will be a priority in managing these lands as a natural park, he said.
“The plants are typically more fragile in these environments,” Farquhar said. “So that’s the importance of protecting them and ideally, keeping the public on designated trails so they’re not damaging them.”
The forested areas of the park play an important role for the watershed, he said. “Basically, they ensure that, through rainfall, the water is captured and slowly released into the lake via small tributaries and creeks,” Farquhar said.
For decades, Shawnigan Lake residents and visitors have hiked on old logging roads and unmarked trails on Old Baldy.
The regional district will now work with the Shawnigan Lake Parks Commission and local trail advocates to map and develop a formal network of hiking and walking trails. It will also restore areas damaged by logging and site clearing for developments that did not proceed, Farquhar said.
“We’ll certainly be doing something in 2016 because we know the public is already out there using it and enjoying it,” said Farquhar. “We’ll probably do some initial signage on the more established pathways people have been using. Over time, we’ll look to improve those and see if there’s anything else to improve the public’s use and enjoyment of the park.”