The biggest news to wallop west Cowichan came when it was mooted midsummer that Sunfest would move to Meade Creek.
While fans of the country music festival were more interested that Carrie Underwood was coming to the Valley in 2016 — after all, when any singer is given the iconic role of Maria in a blockbuster TV remake of The Sound of Music, that singer is a mega-star — residents of the Cowichan Lake area were way more concerned about the impact on them of the massive move.
They were in an instant tizzy, hopping up and down like fleas on a hot brick, taking both sides of the idea and flooding social media with a Niagara of opinions.
The Sunfest folks announced their plans with the posting of a rezoning application sign at the old sand drags site at Meade Creek on the Youbou Highway.
They announced its name — Lake Town Ranch — and then began a careful campaign to boost their plans for a permanent, privately-owned home for not just Sunfest but a few other festival-type events on a big property that would also house a new campsite.
Their obvious two-fold aim: to try to gather their supporters behind them while hopefully derailing the doubters by presenting them with study after study.
Led by owner Greg Adams and consultant Jennifer Kay, they waved reams of paper work to show they’d looked into it all: economic benefit, noise, traffic, environmental, social and even charitable concerns, on-site parking, fire protection — the lot.
To many, including the town council of nearby Lake Cowichan, they were convincing.
These folks, tired of seeing facilities, schools, and business closing in the area, looked optimistically towards what they thought was a door to a hopeful future for a part of the Valley that had been smacked down far too often.
Others, however, are, ready to do battle.
Led by such Lake Cowichan movers and shakers as former mayor Jack Peake, this group’s members argued strongly that the Lake’s prime asset: its natural beauty and peaceful country lifestyle would be excoriated by the arrival of a major music festival bringing more than 10,000 people a day for its duration.
Some suggested that the thinly populated district would soon be punch drunk from being hit by traffic problems — particularly at the already dangerous Y-intersection at the entrance to Lake Cowichan, inescapable noise, garbage, and the physical and social impact on the infrastructure and facilities of an unprepared municipality that had no say about anything regarding the festival or its relocation.
Others, fearful that the forest-ringed area would suffer another dangerously dry summer, were concerned about the increased fire hazard, not only from having so many people so near the dry trees but by the possibility of fires starting from cigarettes tossed out windows by folks in a party mood.
Still more were worried that there were simply not enough restaurants, motels, food stores, gas stations and other amenities for such a big crowd.
Caught in the middle was Youbou/Meade Creek area director Klaus Kuhn, who has to make a tough decision on how to vote when the Cowichan Valley Regional District ponders whether or not to give Lake Town Ranch the green light at a mid-January meeting.
The Lake Town Ranch group opened its official campaign at the Meade Creek site on Aug. 20, with what was billed as an open house. Even though it was not advertised as a meeting, hundreds of people came, their cars soon filling every available place on the gravelly ground and then lining the Youbou Highway and Meade Creek Road.
The visitors crowded up to the tents to pick up the information on offer and talk to the consultants assembled.
But, in what could have been a major turning point in a debate that was barely underway, Adams gauged the mood of the people present and began to answer questions himself.
Almost immediately a crowd formed around him, eager to hear from him directly and Adams stayed there for quite some time, telling them that he loved their area so much that had bought a home there himself, giving more details about what was planned for the Lake Town Ranch site.
But that was only a beginning.
Despite being a CVRD issue, Lake Cowichan’s town council was soon forced into fielding questions at its meetings, simply because it is the hub for the Cowichan Lake area. Town residents like Rosemary Danaher gave tongue to dire warnings about the effects on the Cowichan River of many, many more visitors trying to escape the heat of the notoriously dry August long weekend when Sunfest is held every year.
However, led by Mayor Ross Forrest and Town CVRD board rep Bob Day, council held firm in seeing the festival’s relocation to their doorstep as a once-in-a-lifetime chance for economic renewal. Business owners, such as Jenn Pollner of Lake Cowichan’s Country Grocer stepped up to voice agreement and urge everyone to look for ways to tap into what they saw as a bonanza coming down the road.
By Dec. 5, when the final regional district public hearing on the subject was held in Youbou, everyone was there.
The historic Community Hall, which has seen many a contentious meeting down the years, welcomed a host of heavyweights. The crowd included many regional directors, Cowichan Valley MLA Bill Routley, folks from the Cowichan Exhibition — Sunfest’s current home, which is deemed too small for the growing event — representatives from the Island Savings Centre, firefighters from several departments along with folks from Coulson’s Flying Tankers in nearby Port Alberni, young musicians, business owners from all across the Valley and, of course, plenty of music lovers and nearby homeowners.
Lake Town Ranch’s Kay again made a presentation, backed by more comments from Adams. CVRD officials were there to offer additional information. Then, for the last time, the public got up to speak.
So, the year is ending and the question on everyone’s lips at the Lake is: will the hills be alive with the sound of music this summer?