I have been writing a column for Fishbowl Magazine for over 9 years. As some of you know, I write in a humorous tone about the quirky island we live on. However, if you are expecting this next piece of writing to be funny, you should surf in another direction.
Allow me to start with a joke: What does Fulford Pub, The Salt Spring Coffee Company, Vesuvius Pub, Tree House and Salt Spring Metal Recycling have in common with Island Escapades? Punchline: Everything. Was that funny?
I was deeply affected after reading about the stop work order the Island’s Trust has placed on the Watkin family, and their dream to re-activate the Island Escapades property. The businesses that I listed in my joke are the prominent tip of the iceberg in what is obviously a bigger issue. If you surf over to the Island’s Trust, one of the first things you will read is this: “Preserving Island Communities, Culture and Environment.” I understand that beyond this brief mission statement, there are legal nuances buried deep within the Trust’s mandate. Reflecting upon the history of the Trust’s decisions, I wonder if they even see the words, “Culture and Community”?
Islanders are world renowned for their passion and activism regarding the environment. Historically they are incredibly effective in protecting the environment on Salt Spring. They rallied to purchase huge tracts of land back from Mac/Blo, they reclaimed Blackburn Golf Course for the Nature Conservancy. They successfully protected the Fulford River estuary. That is just to name a few.
I was raised to appreciate and respect the natural world we inhabit. I am an environmentalist. I am also a human and an Islander. I believe strongly that this community is a precious resource. When I say community, I mean everyone. Tree fellers, cafe owners, doctors, students and teachers. If I left your occupation out, don’t be offended. Assume you’re included. We live in a environmentally precious place, but it’s incredibly important to not dismiss the element of “we”.
I’m sure if we looked hard enough, we could find negative environmental impacts in almost everything we do. However, the Trust needs to go further in balancing that scale. This island can not be governed with “cookie-cutter” laws. Since the Watkin’s wrote to the community regarding their stop work order, in response, many people have thrown the word “bully” around in reference to the Island’s Trust. I don’t see it that way. I picture the Island’s Trust as constantly acting out of fear. Fear of upsetting the wrong group of people. Fear of altering their mandate to reflect the current situation. Fear of being clear on their actions. Fear of leading with confidence.
In the case of the Watkins and Island Escapades, there has to be judgment based on a list of pros and cons. I’m sure what they are doing will affect the small section of waterfront they occupy. I also know that they are going to great efforts and expense to reduce that impact. The Watkins want to create a beautiful destination for locals and visitors to enjoy the best of what Salt Spring has to offer; From the spectacular landscape to the equally spectacular people who shape this community. They are not in this to destroy, they are in this to create. They do not need this project for financial gain. This is a project of passion. If this is halted on any level by the Island’s Trust, it will be a guaranteed net-loss for the Island, and I’m not just talking about killing more jobs for locals. I am talking about losses that people may not pause to consider.
Here is a good example: For three years I have been the chair of the Bateman Foundation. The Foundation’s is a national non-for profit. Our basic message is to “Inspire a passion for nature”. However, our first, more detailed objective is to: “Challenge the public and society’s leaders to a new dialogue about our relationship with nature through strategic partnerships, research, collaboration and public education.” It’s the education piece I want to highlight. If the activities on the water side of Island Escapades are not allowed to proceed, neither will their nature excursions. Environmental and nature education can not be taught in a classroom, or on a laptop. People need to get into nature. They need to immerse themselves. Yes, feet damage foliage, interpretive centres destroy minute ecosystems and if you wish to visit the Suzuki Foundation, chances are you’re going to burn fossil fuels doing so. However, without the advantages of accessing nature, we can never fully appreciate what is at stake. This can not be done with zero impact on the environment.
In the current scenario, Island Escapades and Jack Rosen will no longer be able to annually take hundreds of people out to experience our local, natural world. Jack is fundamentally an educator whose decades of service have transformed people’s lives and opened their minds. If I was asked to choose between the offer on the table from the Watkin family and Jack Rosen against the implied environmental damage it may cause, I choose these brilliant community members who will enhance this little piece of land and offer it for the benefit of all.
Regardless of the scope of your opinion, don’t forget that the members of the Island’s Trust are elected officials who are here to represent you. If you have an opinion, let them know.