There’s nothing like access to the icy cold waters of the Cowichan River to get a debate heated.
On April 6 the Cowichan Valley Citizen ran a story about a would-be river user upset with the recent closure of access to the popular swimming hole known as “Paradise”.
The special spot off Cliffs Road has been popular for years but it’s not public property. Despite dozens of ‘No Tresspassing’ signs, people still flocked to the site, in some cases cutting existing fences to get in and often leaving all sorts of garbage — including needles — behind.
The property owners have built a fence to keep people out and while it has some up in arms about access, most are supporting Teresa Fenwick and her family.
“As many rude and entitled people we have had to deal with, we have met and heard from triple wonderful, thoughtful supportive people who have offered their help and support. As you can see from the comments, most people respect private property,” Fenwick wrote on Facebook.
She said she’s not denying access to the river, just to private land. Land that’s been private for more than 100 years.
“The garbage, needles, fires, weapons, drugs, drug deals, dog [excrement], empties…” she wrote. “And trees being cut for fires is disgusting…if you worked hard to buy land you wouldn’t want others destroying it either. No one owns the river…u can get to Paradise other ways.”
Public access, yes. Through private land, no way, say most, in their support of Fenwick.
“Seems pretty clear to me that the owners are well within their rights. It is PRIVATE PROPERTY. Just because people have been trespassing on this private property for many years doesn’t mean it’s their given right to do so,” wrote Erin Denison.
“The property owners have every right to privacy, security and peace of mind knowing their family, pets and property are secure. The access to the beach has never been public and the owner has every right to fence it off,” wrote Carol Bryson.
“I understand the frustration in not being able to get to a place you have gone to for years, but the fact is, this is someone’s land and their rights need to be respected,” wrote Jodi Benson. “If they want to build a fence on their property, they have that right. Liability issues are just the tip of the iceberg for a land owner. Privacy needs to be respected.”
Still, access points to the river are a hot topic.
“It should be a priority for our municipal council to help the public access our river. The public has been using those trails for decades,” wrote Meghan Robertson on the Citizen’s website. “It’s no good saying that the river is public when only wealthy property owners can access the best swimming holes. I think our mayor is correct that no, the access we have is not enough anymore and something should be done for the people of the Cowichan Valley to make sure there is enough access to the river.”
Rick Bryan of North Cowichan wrote a letter to the Citizen proposing working to get a Freedom to Roam law passed in Canada that would allow “citizens to access wilderness through private property”.
“As a recreational whitewater paddler, I’m aware of the grave concern recreationalists face all over the globe when riverfront becomes private property, and reasonable access is denied. Swimmers, tubers, anglers, and paddlers all need access points to our rivers,” he said.
“Folks, we have work to do! We must strive toward ‘Freedom to Roam’ and we must work aggressively to limit the current ‘Freedom to NIMBY’.”