The executive director of a popular nature sanctuary in Saanich hopes the public will continue to visit as workers begin to dismantle and replace a floating boardwalk that draws tens of thousands of visitors each year.
Kathleen Burton, executive director of the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary Society, said residents will still be able to walk around Swan Lake, despite this week’s closure of a floating boardwalk.
The boardwalk cuts across the northeastern corner of Swan Lake at a length of more than 300 metres, and has offered visitors excellent views of the local flora and fauna since it opened in 1991.
But nature has weathered it beyond repair, and a new boardwalk made out of steel and fibreglass will take its place by the fall of 2018 at an estimated cost of $800,000. In the meantime, visitors will still be able to walk around the lake by following an alternate route.
“While the construction is happening, we want to encourage people to continue to come to Swan Lake and continue to enjoy the vast beauty that is offered here,” she said. “It’s incredible to have this [area] right in your backyard, and it’s right here in the heart of Saanich,” she said.
Some 65,000 people visited Swan Lake last year, and the area ranks among the most popular destinations in the region as it combines easy access with ecological diversity in the midst of an urban area that has made it an ideal place for personal contemplation and public education.
Planning and fundraising for the new floating boardwalk began several years ago, and Burton said the society will continue to fundraise during the construction period to minimize the financial impact on taxpayers after Saanich provided more than $530,000 to the society, which manages the area for the municipality.
“We are still actively looking for funds,” said Burton. “The less we have to ask the district for, the better,” she said.
She said the timing of the replacement reflects the best possible choice from a menu of bad options. “No matter when we do it, it is not going to be a good time for the community, because we are denying access to something that is a community favourite,” she said.
This said, the timing of the work reflects the availability of contractors and the program schedule of the society, including its fall programming for school, said Burton.
If everything goes according to the schedule, the new floating boardwalk will open in the first or second week of October, she said.
“My goal is to come in on time and on budget,” she said.
The society will first remove the existing boardwalk. Reusable sections will either become available for sale to outside parties or find their way into some other internal use, said Burton.
Knappett Construction will then come in to set up and install the new boardwalk. It will consist of 31 separate pieces that will actually run longer than the existing boardwalk once put together. It will not only be sturdier, but also feature two observation areas to improve educational programming.
But the work will not be as straight forward as it sounds. In addition to the summer heat and mosquitoes, crews will have to be mindful of local plants and animals, not to mention the fact that they will be working near water, with workers having to wear life-jackets.
The society completed improvements to another, shorter section of the same boardwalk in the summer of 2015, with the work taking place on land.