The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) is planning to construct a parking lot at the end of Willow Road for people visiting Maplehurst Park.
Maplehurst is a four-kilometre length of trail located mostly in Cherry Creek. The park was originally developed through a Maplehurst subdivision process more than 100 years ago, and although the subdivision never went ahead, the park remains.
Over the past few years, trail use in the park has increased significantly and the ACRD no longer has the infrastructure for the traffic.
“It has essentially been not managed,” said Michael McGregor, the ACRD’s lands and resources coordinator, during an ACRD board of directors meeting on Aug. 24. “It’s grown organically through volunteer resources and local community groups taking initiative to make trail improvements as they see fit.”
Earlier this year, the ACRD started a public input project to learn more about park use, to identify a long-term vision for Maplehurst and learn about priorities for park enhancements and protection of the natural environment.
“There’s a lot of people really passionate about this area,” said McGregor. “We received a lot of public engagement with various different ideas and priorities.”
McGregor said most of the public input expressed a desire for the park to stay natural.
“We appreciate what’s there now,” said McGregor. “We want to maintain a natural area for public use.”
But trail users also commented on the lack of parking. The trailhead is located at the end of Willow Road and cars park on the shoulder of the road. On busy days, traffic gets congested.
Based on this feedback, and recommendations from McGregor, the ACRD board of directors voted on Wednesday to apply for a license of occupation and a lease with the Province of BC for a parking facility within Ministry of Transportation right of way and Crown lands at the end of Willow Road.
The board also voted to prepare a project plan for establishing a secondary park access off Cowley Road.
McGregor investigated seven potential accesses in total and presented them to the board on Wednesday. An access off Cowley Road would be ideal, he said, because there is an existing trail through the woodlot that goes down to the park. This area is not densely populated, so it can also accommodate a larger parking area.
The Cowley Road access will require an application to the province and engagement with First Nations and the woodlot tender holder, so a Willow Road parking lot is a “short-term” solution.
But residents of Willow Road are not happy about the ACRD’s decision. One resident, Sherry Harrison, said she was “blindsided” by the decision last week. She, and other residents, were under the impression after public engagement sessions that the ACRD would be pursuing another parking lot option instead of the Willow Road entrance.
“It’s made a big impact on our lives,” she said.
Residents of Willow Road are impacted from park user traffic and informal parking on the shoulder near the trail head. There are 19 residential properties on Willow Road and “the majority” of property owners would prefer that trail users stopped using Willow Road, said McGregor.
“It’s a dead-end road,” said Harrison. “Cars have to go in and out.”
While parking will be improved by a parking lot, traffic will be worse. Harrison believes it will double the amount of people travelling down their road, sometimes at high speeds.
“Most people will go wherever the parking lot is,” she said.
However, said McGregor, the ACRD is unable to restrict public access to a public roadway. He noted in his report to the board that if Maplehurst Park had several access points with dedicated, well-designed parking areas connecting different neighborhoods to the park, it would reduce parking pressure and congestion at any one access point.
For Harrison, the Cowley Road access isn’t a solution because it will be at least three years away.
“We need to have a say in this, and right now we’re not having a say,” she said.
On top of the congestion, Harrison is also concerned about the effect that the construction will have on Kitsuksis Creek.
McGregor emphasized in a later interview that although the ACRD board has approved the parking lot, it still has to go through the province. He also said the ACRD has hired a biologist, who is preparing an environmental management plan.
The public input process generated a lot of participation and discussion, he said, and not everyone will agree on the final results. The current plan, he said, “strikes a good balance” of trying to address key concerns with a cost-effective solution.
The proposed parking lot will be a 12-space lot at the trail head, with enough space for people to turn around. McGregor says they plan to keep a tree buffer to separate trail users from residential properties.
The ACRD board also adopted on Wednesday a management plan for the park, which will include adding wayfinding signage and collaborating with Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nation on interpretive signage within the park, as well as a potential name change
“Maplehurst was the name of a subdivision over a hundred years ago that never went ahead,” said McGregor. “I don’t think the community has a great attachment to the name.”
ACRD staff will also pursue an expansion of the Maplehurst trail system on adjacent Crown Lands in Beaver Creek.