There have been some big strides made in environmental conservation and habitat restoration in the region lately, according to Greenways Land Trust Executive Director Cynthia Bendickson, and the organization is hoping to continue that trend as it heads into a fresh year.
Looking back at 2019, in particular, Bendickson says she’s proud of how Greenways has stayed the course on some things, and thought outside the box on others.
“I think one of the highlights from the last year or so was the successful continuation of our schools programming,” Bendickson says. “It’s awesome that we were able to continue to run that and even expand it. We’ve changed tack slightly and are now focusing on water quality, but there are still great things happening with that partnership with our schools. That’s really at the heart of what Greenways is about: getting out into the community and share our knowledge and teach others about the things they can do to improve our environment, and this is one of the ways we do that.”
Last year also saw the construction and opening of the new Charstate Community Garden.
“That was definitely a labour of love,” Bendickson says. “The community really pulled together on that to get it open, and it was only open for a month before we had to start a waitlist, which goes to show how much it was needed.”
In terms of new initiatives, Bendickson says she was thrilled with how the first year of the organization’s new Fruit Tree Program turned out.
“I’ve been wanting to do that project for many, many years,” she says, telling the story of how Sandra Parrish at the Museum at Campbell River recently contacted her after finding a document from Bendickson’s time as a summer student at the museum back in 2005 that had “fruit tree project” as one of her ideas for future initiatives the museum could take on.
“It was amazing to see the community get behind it,” she says. “It hits on so many issues that we’re all about as an organization: there’s the ‘bear aware’ stuff, which is a huge part of why I personally was interested in the project – we need to manage the human/bear interaction situation and keep our bears from being destroyed, but also all the social aspects of it.”
She says the food distribution aspect of the project was particularly rewarding to see, as well as the opportunity to reward the organization’s volunteers – part of what they pick they get to keep, after all – as well as the benefit to homeowners who took advantage of the program.
“We had quite a few people who just couldn’t physically pick their trees, so being able to offer this to them is a really huge benefit to the community. Overall, the program was really well received and it was also really fun to do.”
The challenge now to find a sustainable funding source so that program can continue, Bendickson says.
“We’ve got some grant applications out there, but a lot of the time grant funders want to fund new programs, and this isn’t new anymore,” she says. “But because this hits on so many social levels, there has to be a house for it within maybe some local government agencies and make it survive without having to worry about acquiring grant funding for it every year.”
As for what’s coming down the pipe for 2020, Bendickson says it’ll start by hiring a new employee to coordinate the organization’s habitat management work, because the organization has grown past its current capacity, but other than that, it’s likely to be a year of just continuing to slowly build on what they already do.
“We’re hoping to continue the Fruit Tree Project, and just keep everything going,” she says. “Hopefully we can expand our salmon habitat projects and improving urban creeks and the estuary – that could use some more time put in on it. We’re waiting to hear back about a $900,000 grant application we have out, and if that comes through, you could see a lot of work being done in the estuary next year.”
If there’s one specific thing she’d like to see happen in 2020, it’s figuring out how to help Simms Creek.
“Simms Creek needs a lot of love,” she says. “In the section where it runs through Beaver Lodge Lands it’s in pretty good shape, but when it hits the urban area, it’s got a lot of issues. I’d love to be able to tell you at this point next year that we’ve had an assessment done and we’ve got a solid plan going forward for it.”