The Parksville Qualicum Beach region may soon get another parcel of forested parkland.
The preservation of French Creek Estuary has been the focus of conservation groups in the area for more than a decade.
Land owners, French Creek House Ltd., have worked with Friends of French Creek Conservation Society, French Creek Residents Association and Save the Estuary Society and are poised to donate more than 12 acres of their property to be designated as forested parkland.
For that to happen, it will require the support of the Regional District of Nanaimo, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and Ministry of Environment.
French Creek House Ltd. has a development project on the Lee Road area near the French Creek Marina. The plan is build more than 160 residential units comprised of townhouses, duplexes and condominiums and also up to 30,000 square feet of commercial space.
Quinn Griesdale, who heads the project and is the nephew of the former owner of the property, the late John Moore, said they have an unusual rezoning application to the RDN that focuses not only on their development plans but also addresses the preservation of the property they plan to donate as conservation land and as an eagle preserve.
“The conversation we’ve had with the regional district is how do we create a park that somebody just doesn’t come in and chop the trees down at a later date and build swing sets?” said Griesdale. “We want to make it a park that stays full of trees and an eagle conservatory. It’s been a much bigger conversation than what I initially set out to do. The rezoning proposal has grown from being just this commercial mixed-use property to this whole block of properties. The overall package is one that the regional district and the Ministry of Environment haven’t really seen before.”
The size of the French Creek Estuary near the Columbia Drive area is 23 acres. Moore, who started developing the area in 1994, already alloted five acres as parkland. In 2018, Griesdale said, they signed memorandum of understanding with Friends of French Creek Conservation Society that they would preserve a portion of the property as conservation land.
Griesdale said they’re now looking at donating more than 12 additional acres to bring the total protected land to approximately 17.7 acres but that will depend on the success of their rezoning application now before the RDN, and also approval of its traffic proposal for the area.
The remaining five acres will be left for future development but Griesdale said he he has no plans of doing that. Conservation groups have indicated their intention to raise funds to buy the leftover lots.
“I would really love that,” said Griesdale. “I’d love for them to purchase that land from us whether it’s done through Nature’s Trust or Ducks Unlimited or some other third parties that have the same interest to preserve it.”
French Creek House Ltd. recently funded the creation of an artificial eagle nest on a tree near Viking Way as well as installation of a webcam. Conservation groups appreciated French Creek House’s support.
Hancock has indicated that the French Creek Estuary could become the first eagle preserve on Vancouver Island due to the area’s potential for nesting and northern winter eagles.
“This needs to be a park,” said Hancock, who has now joined the cause of local conservation groups in the fight to preserve the estuary. “This needs to be an ecological preserve for eagles and all the other things. There’s otter’s nests, beavers, all sorts of birds go through this, around 182 that they’ve recorded flying through this patch of woods. So it’s really an important tiny patch of heaven for wildlife. We want to see that preserved.”
Robin Robinson of the Friends of French Creek Conservation Society said they’re happy to see their work finally coming to fruition.
“We formed in 2004 to preserve this 23 acres that are here and it’s been a long journey,” said Robinson.
Griesdale is looking forward to get his development project on Lee Road happening. He hopes by the fall the regional district would be able hold a public hearing.
Griesdale appreciates how all the groups and individuals, including those that opposed his development project, have worked together in finding solutions that will work for the benefit of the region.
“It’s really remarkable to have so many people from different aspects of the community coming together,” said Griesdale. “It’s very encouraging.”