Pair of protected properties have new caretaker with another next on the list

Two protected Nanaimo properties have a new caretaker, and the late Merv Wilkinson’s Wildwood demonstration forest is next on the list.

South Winchelsea Island and Nanaimo River Regional Park are now owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Victoria-based non-profit The Land Conservancy transferred title on those and 24 other properties as part of a sale recently approved by the B.C. Supreme Court, under a plan to pay down debt.

Besides having exceptional appeal as a recreational area, the South Winchelsea is significant in that it was “our very first property we acquired,” said Briony Penn, TLC board chairwoman.

The Nanaimo River property became protected after Nanaimo Area Land Trust mounted a fundraising campaign to save it from logging, which led to it being acquired, with the Regional District of Nanaimo signing a 99-year deal to manage it as a park.

TLC is paying down its debt in phases, or trenches. Missing in the first trench is the Wildwood property, which was saved as a working example of sustainable forestry – or so many donors to the fundraising campaign believed.

The Ecoforestry Institute Society offered TLC $900,000 to acquire the property, and that sale was approved by the TLC board on the weekend.

“It hasn’t been signed by both parties,” Penn said. “Our board has signed it off. It’s going to go back to them. We’re very close.”

The sale is an important one to TLC, because $900,000 will make a big difference in the organization’s debt situation.

“It means we’ll be able to do everything we wanted in the (restructuring) plan. It’s a very important agreement and I think everybody will be pleased. It’s doing the very best in a bad situation.”

The offer was made in the summer, outbidding a rival buyer, but a holdup in a deal was interpretation of Wilkinson’s intent when a covenant was put on the property when he sold it to TLC, 15 years ago.

“It was very complex,” Penn said.

“The courts threw up their hands, the (attorney general) threw up his hands, there were just some very subtle differences with the whole role of public access through it — it was very difficult.”

Some believe Wilkinson wanted a living museum where visitors could see sustainable forestry. Others believed he just wanted the forest protected and worked the same way he operated it since 1938.

Penn said the problem was solved with help from “very accomplished mediators.”

An announcement on that sale is expected later this month.

Other properties transferred to NCC include: Avola Creek, Center Creek, Clare Winnett Copeland property, two parcels on the Cowichan River, Creekside rain forest, a 60-per cent interest in Cusheon Cove, Elizabeth Lake, Goodall ecological land reserve, Horsefly River riparian conservation area, 60-per cent interest in Kindwood, Laux Property, Lehman Springs conservation area, Lohbrunner bird sanctuary, Luke Creek wildlife corridor, Natasha Boyd wetland conservation Area, Peachcliff conservation area, Similkameen River Pines, Talking Mountain Ranch, Turtle Valley Farm, West Twin, Woods Family property, and Wycliffe wildlife corridor.



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