Beaver Lodge Lands: Reimagining Campbell River’s ‘Stanley Park’

“When we hear visitors say ‘you’re so lucky to have all those trees’ then we appreciate them more. And the more you appreciate something, the more likely you are to protect it.”

The Beaver Lodge Lands are a hub for outdoor recreation in Campbell River. President of the Beaver Lodge Trust Society Sandra Milligan calls it Campbell River’s “Stanley Park” due to its natural beauty and proximity to city life. The trail networks are popular with runners, cyclists, walkers, horseback riders, and anyone seeking a moment of calm amongst the trees.

A group of passionate locals are working to rewrite the land use plan for the Beaver Lodge Lands to reflect the modern recreational needs and environmental values of the community.

Expectations of Recreational Use

The Beaver Lodge Lands poses a unique challenge for the dedicated nature-loving community organizers. Locals and visitors regularly treat the area like a park, but it is not officially a park (more on this later). Sandra notes that, because it is not a designated park, it does not have the same support and governance structure as provincial and municipal parks. This can lead to confusion or frustration when people cannot find basic amenities such as parking, benches, signage, or washrooms.

In theory, the trails are easily accessible for the thousands of people who enjoy them as part of an active lifestyle, but in reality, they don’t always meet expectations for recreational use.

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An interpretive plant walk held in Beaver Lodge Lands

An interpretive plant walk held in Beaver Lodge Lands. Photo credit: Bluetree Photography

Why isn’t it a park?

A brief history lesson is required to understand the Beaver Lodge Trust Society’s plans for the future.

After decades of logging in the early 20th century, the Elk River Timber company gifted the land that now makes up the Beaver Lodge Forest Lands to the province of British Columbia for forestry research. In 1931 it became one of the first operational tree plantations in the province. Researchers tested reforestation methods and experimented with planting different tree species. Ninety years on, humans and wildlife enjoy the benefits of a diverse, healthy forest habitat.

Forestry research still takes place in the Beaver Lodge Forest Lands. It is an important site for teaching and is used by local schools and colleges to study urban forest management, salmon spawning, invasive species removal, trail maintenance, and climate change.

The original 1931 Beaver Lodge Forest Lands documentation states that the gifted land must be used only for research purposes. Fast-forward to the present day, this now limits the Campbell River community’s ability to install basic facilities people expect at a well-trafficked, multi-use outdoor destination.

Honouring History and Reimagining the Future

Sandra recounts how in the 1990s, community members came together to protect the Beaver Lodge Lands from a housing development. During that process, they relied on digging up the original 1931 documentation from the archives to make their case for protecting the forest. To learn more about this watch the Museum of Campbell River’s documentary The Battle of the Beaver Lodge Lands: Gift and Compromise.

The land was successfully protected and the community was asked to write a resource use plan. That plan remains a guiding document for what should and should not happen on the Beaver Lodge Lands. Sandra says the story of the Beaver Lodge Lands is about recognizing the changes in human values. It’s time for an update that reflects a growing and changing community, as well as the importance of consulting local Indigenous nations.

“We need to acknowledge that what was written in 1931 is not working for us right now,” she says.

Environmental Conservation and Community Values

Sandra founded the non-profit Beaver Lodge Trust Society at the start of 2022 to help update the legislation for how the Beaver Lodge Lands are used by locals and visitors. The aim is to secure the funding required to build the amenities people expect of a well-loved recreational area in nature, while also protecting the forest for many generations to come.

It is a project with both environmental stewardship and community values at its core.

“We want to protect it for many reasons. We want to protect the organisms that live there for their own sake. We want to protect it for the users. We want to protect it for people in the community because those trees provide tremendous infrastructural assets in terms of air quality and stormwater management,” Sandra says. “But I say now, it’s our responsibility to protect this for everyone in the world, just like we would like to think that somebody’s protecting a piece of Amazonian rainforest for us just to know that it’s there.

“It’s our local responsibility to protect Beaver Lodge and to care for it, because it’s our responsibility to maintain nature for everyone in the world.”

Support the Beaver Lodge Trust Society’s work by filling out their survey. You can also send donations to support their education and infrastructure development work to [email protected]. When visiting the Beaver Lodge Lands, be a good guest and always stay on designated trails.