It started with a thud.
Harrison Mills resident Oona Whelan was in her log home, nestled snug between the dike and the lone road that leads to the Kilby boat launch and campground along the shores of the Harrison River.
The thud shook her house and she knew something was amiss. After all, it tends to be a quiet little corner of the valley on a typical Spring morning like Tuesday, April 21. Whelan went upstairs to look out her balcony, expecting to see perhaps a stunned bird crashed into her window. Instead, she gazed across her neatly-manicured yard, past the dike directly into the boat launch / day use parking area on the Harrison River. That’s when she saw the trees coming down.
Whelan was shocked, since there had been no notice or information posted about the removal of the tall Cottonwood trees. That one event led to a flurry of questions and correspondence between neighbours, various government representatives as well as District of Kent Council and staff about what is changing at Kilby.
According to District staff, the Cottonwood trees were removed because they are a safety concern to the dike.
“Trees are not good for dikes in terms of protection,” explains Wallace Mah, District Chief Administrative Officer.
But their removal also makes room for some changes to the structure of the day use area, allowing for boat and trailer parking as well as several new campsites next to the boat launch. There is also discussion about opening up overflow tent camping on the edge of the 17-acre piece of land belonging to Kilby Historic Site across the dike. Kilby Historic Site is the remainder of what was once the community of Harrison Mills. The site includes a farm and general store museum dating back to 1906. The District of Kent has the contract to operate Kilby, which includes management of Kilby historic site, the existing campground as well as picnic area and boat launch. The District subcontracts the job of running Kilby out to a nonprofit society, the Fraser Heritage Society.
The area at the end of Kilby Road is undergoing a transformation in an attempt to make the Kilby Historic site self-sustaining.
“The Province is no longer wanting to fund that heritage site,” explains Mah.
The District was left in the lurch when the Province downloaded responsibility for the historic site. Mayor John Van Laerhoven (still away from Council duties due to an motorcycle incident March 13) wrote a letter in December, 2014 to Steve Thomson, the minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations citing the District’s concerns about the handling of the whole process.
“We were strongly led to believe that there would be funding available to put a Strategic Plan together that examined achievable outcomes,” he wrote. “We were also told that the Kilby assets that have heritage value would continue to be financially supported by the Province.”
But then things changed and direction from the Province became much more “demanding,” Van Laerhoven went on to write. “The emphasis for success is now being placed on the District and its ability to create a self-sustainable site.”
We thought we would have a lot more time to plan, says Mah, then “everything collapsed. We had to go and beg to get the $100,000 this year, or Kilby would shut down.”
After a tense waiting period, the District finally received funding in March, $100,000 total, with the understanding that they would work to make the site financially self-sufficient.
“If we don’t make changes to make it viable, there will be no more funding,” says Mah, adding that Council has made it clear that the District will not be putting an added tax burden on local residents to keep Kilby operating.
With the short notice given by the Province, the District had to assemble a plan quickly. Adding campsites – the latest estimate shows a possible addition of five RV sites though final measurements are still underway – allows Kilby to remain open, staff to be employed and hopefully, by the Fall, to know whether the District can retain the contract for Kilby ensure its continued operations can be self-sustaining.
Whelan and neighbour Clare Chalupa addressed the District of Kent Council Monday evening as a delegation to make clear their concerns about the changes underway in their neighbourhood. They expressed frustration at not having an opportunity to provide input before plans were drawn up or being informed about what was going to take place.
“There has been no public meeting, notice or avenue for us to express our fears for our safety and that of the park and campground users,” stated Chalupa. “You are encouraging more usage of this rural, bucolic, beautiful area with no infrastructure to support such an increase.”
They are worried about the added traffic this will add to a small, rural road, the increased noise levels and well as ongoing safety concerns surrounding rowdy and disruptive campers, especially given the lack of an on-site camp host right now.
“We are suffering because of mismanagement of that place,” Whelan told Council.
After Chalupa and Whelan presented their concerns, Council and staff had time to respond and address their concerns. There was ample discussion on timelines and details. Councillor Duane Post told them that while this plan is cost-effective, “We should’ve consulted better with residents at Kilby.”
Several other Kilby area residents were in the audience at the Council meeting. In question period, Whelan’s neighbour Darcy Doyle stated that he appreciated Mah for bringing to light the different levels of government they need to work with on the matter.
“I appreciate the process you folks are going through to try and make this work,” said Doyle. “As a resident, the transparency […], I think is what we were after today.”
The District hopes to have the campground and parking lot changes completed in time for May long weekend.