Residents of Harrison may finally see plans of a regional park fulfilled after decades of discussion.
“A Day in the Park” information session hosted by the Fraser Valley Regional District is being held on Sept. 14 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Spirit Square (by the clock) in Harrison Hot Springs.
It is an opportunity for the community to voice support for a nature park and help plan the amenities, as well as share thoughts or concerns about the regional parks system.
The proposed East Sector Special Area in Harrison Hot Springs has three components – 240 acres of provincial land; 80 acres of municipal land and about 75 acres of privately held land, the vast majority of which are in the ALR.
As chairperson of Friends of Harrison Forest, the group working with the village to get the regional park underway, Lillian Martin explained the importance of the area, which is known to host several endangered species, contains mature second-growth forest, wetlands, and much of the course of the Miami slough.
“It is the last significant forested land on the floor of the Fraser Valley that is connected to the great mountainous forests of B.C,” said Martin, “and it's important that the regional district knows that the support for this park is very widespread in the community.”
Chairperson of the meeting, Marg Dorman, considers this a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
She mentions that while the remaining 75 acres of land is privately owned, The Nature Conservatory of Canada has been in contact with the owner, who is willing to sell his property.
“However, the Nature Conservancy organization does not have the funds to purchase the private land for this project,” said Dorman, “so a representative will be coming to make contact with the Harrison council and Friends of Harrison Forest to discuss ways to raise the necessary funds to purchase this land.”
The meeting will also be a chance for Martin, like many others, to discuss the history of the proposed regional park and all of its potential future benefits.
“It will not only be a place where habitat is preserved for both common and rare species, but also where people can relax, recuperate and regenerate their peace of mind,” said Martin. “Tourism is important to Harrison and hundreds of inquiries regarding hiking trails have been received in the last few months at the Tourist Information Centre, so making the Harrison Forest into a recognized park will surely improve the reputation of Harrison as a tourist destination.”
When the idea for a regional park in Harrison’s east sector was first proposed by the Kent-Harrison Green Legacy Society in the early '90s, the provincial government withheld approval until First Nations land claims were settled. The village council would not upgrade the protection of the village lands unaided, and the owners of private lands were not interested. Years later, a new group called Friends of Harrison Forest was formed, and tried several approaches to pose the idea of the park once again, with no success. Finally, it was with the election of a new mayor and council that the idea received support more than 20 years after the original proposal.
When Harrison’s Mayor Leo Facio was approached in 2012 by FVRD representatives, asking how they could help the village, he suggested the regional park concept, certain it would become an “integral part of the community.”
That same year the council received roughly 400 signatures for the area to remain in its natural state, which is anticipated, with only minor improvements to the trails, and suggestions for parking and washroom facilities.
Although a name for the park is still a point of discussion, FVRD reps will be in attendance at The Harrison Plaza on Sept. 14, and will be seeking input from the public.