Work will begin next month on a new 1.6-kilometre multi-use trail along the Trans-Canada Highway near the BC Forest Discovery Centre.
The new trail will run from the Dike Trail Terminus to Drinkwater Road East, and is intended to create a safe cycling and pedestrian connection along the highway.
The province announced in March that the Municipality of North Cowichan will receive $472,000 to expand cycling lanes, and the funding for the trail project is expected to cover approximately half the costs of the trail with North Cowichan picking up the rest of the bill.
The trail is the first project out of ten specific capital projects in the municipality’s five-year bike network plan.
“As our community grows and becomes busier, building safe and walkable connections is so important,” said North Cowichan mayor Jon Lefebure
“This trail will give residents and visitors a safe way to walk and cycle between existing trails, transit services and community hubs like the Visitor Centre, Forest Discovery Centre, Beverly Corners, Cowichan Commons, and the future new regional hospital.”
But the proximity of the trail to the nearby environmentally sensitive Somenos Marsh has raised some concerns.
At the municipality’s committee of the whole meeting on Aug. 16, Dave Polster, from Duncan’s Polster Environmental Services, said the trail’s encroachment on the Somenos Marsh could have unacceptable environmental consequences.
He said that while North Cowichan is stating that the trail’s impacts on the marsh will be minimal, its footprint from a biological perspective would be several hundred metres into the wetland.
“Maybe a bridge could be built to the existing trail on the other side of the marsh that would have less environmental impacts,” Polster said.
“We need to think about the impacts on our natural resources of these types of projects. Look at what’s happened with the water quality at Quamichan Lake.”
Barb Thomas, North Cowichan’s manager of engineering, said the municipality will be meeting with the Somenos Marsh Society next week to discuss the design of the trail and other aspects of it that pertain to the wetland.
She said the environmental plans for the trail call for any areas on the slopes into the marsh that are disturbed by its construction will be replanted with native vegetation that would add extra habitat to the marsh.
“North Cowichan is always open to talks so there’s no closed doors as to how we proceed,” said Natasha Horsman, North Cowichan’s community planning coordinator.
“We’ll try to proceed in a way that will keep all sides satisfied.”