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‘A wonderful gift’

Public speaking and endless meetings make farmer Patrick Evans uncomfortable.

He would rather plow fields, repair fences, build sheds – anything that avoids idleness. But Evans’ patience was the key in a landmark deal to create a new park surrounding the Oyster River salmon hatchery and to protect valuable habitat at Shelter Point Farm.

“I don’t like process. I like getting it done,” Evans said at Wednesday’s announcement. “(This deal) is good for everybody. There’s not a wrong thing about it. It’s a hell of a good thing.”

During the celebratory announcement at the new Shelter Point Distillery – also located on the farm by the Oyster River – the entire Evans family was credited for their eco-gift which creates the new Bear Creek Nature Park.

“The Comox Valley Regional District is very pleased to have been part of this nature park partnership, and thanks the Evans family for their vision and support in bringing this to completion,” said Edwin Grieve, chair of the regional district. “In addition to the sustainability benefits of the hatchery, the park provides a benefit to the area in terms of conserving natural features of regional significance and promoting nature appreciation.”

Back in 2005, conservationists and wildlife supporters nervously awaited news about who would buy the 357-acre farm, as well as the uplands near the hatchery, from the University of British Columbia. They were concerned the farm land could be turned into a residential development.

However, those concerns were eased when the Evans family, long-time farmers in the Comox Valley, purchased the properties. They continued farming the land, as well as protecting critical waterfowl habitat, and looked at options of what to do with the unproductive farm land – mainly forest and wetland – near the hatchery.

Over the past 18 months, during the course of many meetings and a barrage of e-mails, the deals were completed to create the 161-acre park and to establish new covenants at the farm to protect and enhance areas for wildlife, and to help prevent future development.

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of five years of persistence, meetings and negotiations, with a lot of hard work, patience and generosity thrown in,” said Len Everett of Comox, a director with Ducks Unlimited Canada.

Ducks Unlimited B.C. manager Less Bogdan added, “We’ve taken an important step to ensuring Shelter Point Farms continues to offer an oasis for wildlife…projects of this nature provide a win-win for conservationists and the surrounding community.”

Ducks Unlimited has been working to protect waterfowl habitat at the farm since the 1970s. The new conservation agreement will allow the volunteer organization to do even more habitat work, which may include re-opening the Woodhus Slough to the sea like it used to be.

Ducks Unlimited also contributed to the $3 million purchase of the uplands surrounding the salmon hatchery. Other contributions came from the federal and regional governments, the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Cliff Jackman.

The Evans family also donated part of the property through the federal Ecological Gifts Program, which entitles them to a tax deduction. More importantly, the new park provides an umbrella of protection – as well as access – to the volunteer-run salmon hatchery.

“This will allow us to maintain the hatchery – we were worried it would be sold,” said Father Charles Brandt, a tireless conservationist who lives just downstream of the hatchery. “This gives us a guarantee…it really is a wonderful gift.”

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