Andrew Wood has been spending much of his time during the summer months at a beautiful swimming hole off Cliffs and Gibbins roads, popularly known as “Paradise”, since he was 12 years old.
It’s been a much-visited swimming destination for people in the Cowichan Valley for generations, but access to the site involves walking a trail that goes through private property as well as land belonging to the Cowichan Tribes, and the trail is no longer open to the public.
The property owner at the head of the trail has been clearing trees at the site in preparation for building a fence to keep trespassers out, and Wood is concerned that access to his and many others’ favourite swimming hole is now being cut off.
“I’m sure the owners are within their legal rights,” Wood said.
“It’s always had a ‘do not enter’ sign at the entrance, but almost everyone I know has swam there since they were teenagers. A lot of people are talking about losing the public spaces that are the best part of living here.”
Wood said he hopes the landowners will be willing to donate a sliver of their property to the Municipality of North Cowichan, in which the property sits, to allow a path through the site, but he said there’s also the land owned by the Cowichan Tribes that must be crossed to get to the swimming hole to consider as well.
“This is very frustrating for a lot of people,” he said.
A statement from North Cowichan said it is the municipality’s understanding that the owners of the private property on Gibbins Road where this trespass occurs are not OK with the public walking through their property.
In response, they are clearing some trees in order to fence the perimeter of their property.
“The municipality is aware of the work underway and is in communication with the owners,” the statement said.
“The municipality has received many inquiries on this subject as well. Because the trails and access in question are through private and Cowichan Tribes land, North Cowichan does not have jurisdiction to facilitate public access.”
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said the owners of the property have indicated that it’s not just trespass issues that are concerning them.
“It appears that some people that have been trespassing on the property are not just heading to the swimming area, but are leaving drug paraphernalia like needles around the property as well,” he said.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I believe liability issues have to be considered as well.”
But Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour said he has not heard any complaints from people crossing the First Nation’s land on their way to the swimming hole.
“We’re fine with it as long as people don’t start living there,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure people will still find a way to get there, regardless of what happens to that path.”
But the loss of public access to areas like Paradise have become an increasing problem in the Valley over the years.
A popular small beach on Greendale Road, known as Little Beach, has been a swimming hole for decades, but in recent years, Lake Cowichan’s tubing companies use it for picking up their customers who have finished their float trip through the community.
However, the beach is not publicly owned and there have been discussions in Lake Cowichan about the possibility of buying the beach to place it in the public’s hands and ensure accessibility.
Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest said there have been few issues with the public using the beach to date.
“I’m not sure what agreements the tubing companies have with the private property owner, but they appear to be working,” he said.
“That can change at any time however, although we hope it won’t. Pretty much all the property along the Cowichan River in our area is privately owned, so we try our best to educate people who use the river to follow the rules.”
Lefebure said there are plenty of public parks and other places to ensure that people still have access to popular destinations in North Cowichan.
“But is it enough?” he asked. “I’m not sure.”