LETTERS: Dispute on access has long history

I was a Boy Scout in 1963-67 and remember well the fiasco with Scout Island at the political level as well as the changes that took place.

Editor:

Re: Scout Island

I was a Boy Scout in 1963-67 and remember well the fiasco with Scout Island at the political level as well as the changes that took place.

The original private owners (not CN Rail or BC Rail or PGE) was the Stevenson family who donated the island property to Scouts Canada as a place to hold jamborees and activities for youth within close proximity to home that provided all the right elements for young people to enjoy the outdoors.  Stevenson are the same family a junior high school was named after with our children’s best interests at heart.  The only access was by water so it was quite an adventure for a child to canoe over water and camp in a wonderful wilderness with snakes and frogs all within shouting distance of home.

Over the years following the city needed a new primary water supply and Scout Island seemed the best location to drill water wells and thus a fight began with Scouts Canada soon escalating into a war over land taxes and the forfeiture of the island as a result of back taxes owed. This was rather messy as memory recalls and a real shameful time for our community.

At that time there was a group of nature lovers who had been eyeing the property as something special and once the town put in a causeway to provide access for machines for drilling water wells a whole new battle began to preserve this precious chunk of land within town limits.  The city built a beach and campsite fully serviced with water and sewer and power and it operated for many years almost every summer proving to be a great success and booming economic benefit to community.

Not sure as to the length of time it took but the field naturalists began heavy campaigning for some control, so much so they called in the Second Century Fund group (Nature Trust of BC) who own a number of wilderness properties within urban limits including Stanley Park and much more.  This is where things got very upsetting for everyone involved but in particular the residents and business community who relied on Scout Island for tourism opportunities.

Somehow, the politicians were swayed into selling the property for peanuts and leasing a chunk back for a dollar to operate the water works and beach area and included the costly removal of all campsites and infrastructure at a cost that taxpayers would bear.  There were a number of stories in the Tribune at the time but our politicians were ruled by majority environmentalist’s attitude so common good for all the people of community and region was ignored in favour of tax breaks and some vision of a wilderness refuge within village limits for a small number of users.

Over the years many recreation activities were held on site as a result of guilt so winter and summer activities took place many times with constant complaints from the Field Naturalists to Village Hall attempting to stop all human activities.  The last straw was in winter 1978/79. A top-notch snowmobile race was organized and held with great fan fair as one of the best races in Western Canada at the time, it was on the lake with crowds on the island beach area and being so close to downtown the crowds were very large.  This was a BCSA sanctioned event in a race circuit that included most western Canada and said to be one of the best races ever held in the west from track conditions to crowd involvement and community support.

Here is where things got ugly.  After the cleanup of the event the field naturalists started complaining about a number of issues from reeds trampled on ice to a snowmobile track over second island that happened some time at night after the event.  A one-vote ruling by city council prevented any further recreation activity of the motorized type on the island.

In a community that was heavy on redneck and motor sports this was a devastating decision to an ideal location that had successfully contributed to economic activity in Williams Lake with headline news and the envy of all other communities that such a location so easily accessed.

Since 1979 there has been a moratorium on any motorized used of city held lands and dumb restrictions on boating activities as well.

Williams Lake has struggled to no end attempting to increase recreation events in our area and water sports would be ideal because we have a lake in our front yard. Unfortunately because of a few narrow minded minority our community has literally cut off our water way from becoming a diamond in our community and if the general population does not stand up and force democratic change our lake will turn into a swamp including the lovely smell that emanates on those hot days further deterring people from stopping and enjoying our water way.

I direct this comment to the politicians sitting in power – your job is to insure all the peoples’ best interests are considered, not just a small vocal minority.

Henry Van Soest

Williams Lake