School District No. 71 has donated to the City of Courtenay a property behind Vanier Secondary containing a rare Garry oak woodland.
Students, city and school officials, and representatives from environmental groups attended an announcement Tuesday during Earth Day at the 5.53-hectare parcel that is to become a community park land.
A remnant of the most-northern ecosystem of its kind in Canada, the property’s Garry oak woodland hosts a variety of unusual vegetation species.
“This contains probably the largest concentration of Garry oaks in the Comox Valley,” said Bill Henderson of the Comox Valley Land Trust.
“It’s one of the original groves of Garry oaks that used to spread all the way up to Black Creek, and covered about a 10 square-mile area.”
The grove was also part of an “agricultural culture” of the K’ómoks First Nation, added Henderson, noting the band would harvest nuts from the tree and grind them into a type of flour used as a winter food.
“That is something that is quite historic to the Valley,” he said.
Over the next few years, the Land Trust hopes to see the diminishment of invasive species that are prevalent in the area, such as holly.
The property is also the headwaters of Towhee Creek, a small fish-bearing stream which drains into the Tsolum River.
“This particular property has been on our radar for a long time,” said Piet Rutgers of the Comox Valley Conservation Strategy.
Aside from being a park, the property will become an outdoor classroom and an interpretive centre for the conservation of Garry oaks and other trees.
Upon completing a multi-year study to determine potential uses for the property, the school district chose to work with the City of Courtenay to establish a permanent community park land.
“We are confident that the necessary stewardship of the land will occur,” school board vice-chair Janice Caton said.
The City will ensure the new park is protected.
“We’ll be looking into creating a management plan for the property to determine how we can provide the necessary stewardship for these lands,” Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula said.
The school district will retain ownership of an adjacent 4.75 hectare hillside parcel. That property’s zoning will not change.
The Public Use and Assembly Three Zone would permit several institutional uses and limited development potential.