After 16 years of keeping Kingzett Lake open to the public, the owners of the popular swimming hole — also known as The Quarry — are now hoping the public will cooperate with them and stay away as they work with the Cowichan Valley Regional District to make it a park.
Brothers Grant and Mark Dakus have allowed the public to access the abandoned quarry in the Shawnigan Lake area since they purchased the land, but they spent most of this past weekend keeping visitors off the property.
“The big thing is just that people respect our wishes,” Grant Dakus said. “We’ve been extremely tolerant for 16 years. If they give us time to talk to the CVRD, it would be much appreciated. We would take it as a thank-you for us being tolerant over the years.
Crowds at the lake, which Dakus says can be as big as 2,000 people, are getting too big for an unregulated space. The brothers are in favour of helping the CVRD make the area into a public park, but that will take time to happen.
“It’s gotten to the point where it needs to be controlled,” he said. “If it becomes a park, it will be treated like a park, and RCMP and bylaw enforcement can patrol it.”
A fatal accident on the property earlier this summer was a “mitigating factor” in the brothers taking action, but they had planned to do something about the crowd size prior to that happening. The actions the brothers took this past weekend, they emphasized, were not a direct result of the accident, but more than a month in the making.
The BC Coroners Service confirmed that a man died on July 9 after an incident at the quarry on June 27. According to Sgt. Tim Desaulniers, commander of the Shawnigan Lake RCMP detachment, an off-road vehicle was involved in a collision at the site, and the driver was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Desaulniers is also well aware of the increase in crowds at the lake.
“There have been so many incidents there in the last few years,” he said. “It’s getting busier and busier all the time.”
The Dakus brothers don’t have a lot of details about the death, which is still under investigation by the coroner.
“We dont know a lot,” Grant Dakus said. “We do know someone lost their life, and we want to be very respectful about that. There is a grieving family. It’s extremely unfortunate.
“We’ve spent a lot of money to keep ATVs out. It’s a heartbreaker for us.”
The brothers estimate they have spent about $40,000 over the past five or six years, bringing in heavy equipment and erecting signs to keep out motor vehicles. They aren’t the only ones spending money as a result of increased activity in the area. The RCMP have also stepped up parking enforcement on roads near the lake.
“It’s not fair to the RCMP to put on two overtime shifts on the weekend to deal with that property,” Grant Dakus said. “And that’s just talking about what goes on with the home owners.”
The brothers started to enforce the no-trespassing, zero-tolerance policy on Friday, and spent spent Saturday, Sunday and some of Monday removing people and stopping others from coming in. They spoke with more than 1,500 in total, Grant Dakus said, and most were receptive.
“Of 1,500, we maybe had three that were rude,” he said.“Everyone has been really appreciative of the last 16 years that we have allowed people to use our property,” Mark Dakus added.
The Dakuses bought the 600-acre parcel as an investment and have had several offers over the years, but they would prefer to see it turned into a regional park, something they have discussed with the CVRD.
“It’s a place for all ages of people, from one year old to 80 years old,” Mark said. “Whether it’s walking dogs, swimming, hiking, it’s just got something for everybody. That’s the biggest reason my brother and I believe it should be a park.”
The closure of the park has increased attention to a petition on Change.org that has existed for almost a year, but which has seen a massive uptick in signatures over the past week.
Bailey Parker created the petition nearly a year ago, but it has gained momentum over the past few days. It hit 3,000 signatures on Monday, then rocketed past 7,000 on Tuesday. Parker’s goal is 7,500 signatures.
“Because of it being closed to the public this past weekend, it’s got people behind getting the quarry gifted to the public,” said Parker, whose petition has the support of the Dakus brothers.
Parker started the movement to create a public park specifically because she noticed the increase in visitors to the former “hidden gem,” which is no longer a secret.
“The whole reason I started the petition was because there needed to be some infrastructure, even just garbages and bathrooms,” she said. “It makes sense for the land to be handed over to the CVRD to provide that maintenance.”
CVRD spokesperson Kris Schumacher confirmed that the regional district has looked into acquiring the land.
“That area has been identified within the CVRD regional parks and trails master plan as desirable for regional parkland, and CVRD staff and elected officials have had conversations with the ownership group in recent years about that potential,” he said. “However, there are no formal negotiations happening at this time.”
In the meantime, if Cowichan Valley residents want the area to become a park, Grant Dakus urges them to avoid the land right now.
“If people are for it and support it and respect our wishes, that helps the battle,” he said. “We are fighting for this for everybody. It will go a long way to help us.”