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Kent to consider opening Agassiz dikes to recreational users

Laurens van Vliet spoke to council Monday about his desire to see the dikes open for public use
Part of Kent’s diking system as it passes through private property off Tramner Road. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Agassiz resident Laurens van Vliet is advocating for the district to open up its dikes to the public, but council is concerned about the potential impact for property owners on either side of the dike system.

In January, van Vliet helped prompt a letter writing campaign to the District of Kent from residents wanting to open the dike system for non-motorized recreation, with a goal of creating a formalized trail system along the dikes for walkers, cyclists and dog walkers.

In a delegation to Kent council Monday (Feb. 22), van Vliet shared his reasons for starting the letter writing campaign, beginning with a bike ride he and his wife took along Chilliwack’s dike in November of last year.

“It was a nice sunny day, beautiful farmland, with a backdrop of spectacular snow-capped mountains, snow geese and trumpeter swans feeding in the fields and eagles soaring above us. What an enjoyable and relaxing experience,” he said to council.

“How great would it be if we were able to have the same enjoyable experience in the District of Kent.”

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Van Vliet brought up numerous examples of Kent reports and documents promoting the use of dikes as trails, and outlined what he felt the would be the benefits of opening the dikes: more exercise opportunities for seniors, families and those with disabilities, connecting the public with green space and farmland, and possible economic opportunities.

“I am sure there will be challenges for landowners when opening the dikes for walking and cycling. But challenges also offer opportunities,” he said in the presentation, adding that dikes could be a space for educational signage on agriculture in the community.

He also said that signs would mitigate the majority of “misbehaviours” on the dike, and that dike users are “a totally different crowd than the ones in the past” who are there to enjoy a walk away from traffic.

Coun. Susan Spaeti, whose property on Tramner Road backs on to one of the dikes, wasn’t so sure.

“We’re in favour of allowing residents to use the dikes if they stay on the dikes,” she said after van Vliet’s presentation. “What our issue is is with the percentage of users that venture on to our property.”

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She noted that her property has signs asking people to stay on the dike, but in the past those signs have been stolen or shot up. Since letter writing campaign, she said, she has seen more trespassing and more dog feces on her property.

“I put more signs on Friday and people looked at me and kept going onto private property,” she said. “Are we expecting the property owners to confront these people?”

Mayor Sylvia Pranger also spoke to those concerns, saying that if the dikes were to be opened up, there would need to be more education for the public.

“If they’re walking past the signs as the property owner is putting them up, that tells me we need more work done on education,” she said.

Coun. Stan Watchorn agreed, saying that there needs to be an “effective and good working relationship between the property owners and the public” if the dikes were to be opened.

Coun. Duane Post said that he doubted the amount of economic spin off that would come from opening the dikes to the public, and questioned if all of the dikes should be opened.

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Coun. Kerstin Schwitchenberg spoke in favour of opening the dikes up to recreational users, as the Moutainview trail runs beside the Schwitchenberg property.

“I meet people everyday when I’m walking there that I don’t otherwise meet,” she said. “I think that’s another benefit, is it provides a place where people can meet each other and get to know one another.”

Van Vliet asked council to consider developing a three-year plan to open all 18km of the district’s dikes for non-motorized use, and to see some sections closest to the Agassiz townsite open as soon as 2021.

Staff will be bringing reports back to council with ideas for what the district could do to open the dikes, and council will be making a decision in “short order,” Pranger said.

Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the Schwitchenberg property was next to the dike system. We regret the error and have updated the article.

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