Published: February 7th 2008February 7th 2008
Magnificent Mount Benson is one of the scenic wonders of Nanaimo, British Columbia, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Mount Benson is the city’s backdrop rising 1,019 meters above the Strait of Georgia. The mountain’s green forested slopes are favorites of hikers and wildlife, and there’s a sweeping view of the Coastal Mountain Range across the water from the rocky summit.
Unfortunately, this paradise is threatened. Forestry companies want to harvest timber on the mountain, while development companies want to build luxury homes and resorts on the cleared lands. If the logging were to go ahead, the ugly clearcuts would be an eyesore for decades to come. Hiking trails would be destroyed and the wildlife driven away. If subdivisions creep up the steep slopes, the damage will be permanent.
It has happened here before. In the 1930s Mount Benson was logged, and in 1951 a fire destroyed the regenerating forest. In the summer of 2003, just as the forest was again taking hold, fresh logging began on the northeast side of Mount Benson in full view of the city. This outraged the citizenry and a campaign to Save Mount Benson was launched.
In 2004 the logging stopped after the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) entered negotiations with landowners to purchase the impacted areas. In 2005 the owners agreed to sell their property to the RDN for $950,000, and in March 2006 the Nanaimo and Area Land Trust (NALT) stepped forward with a pledge to raise half the money through public contributions.
The 212-hectare Mount Benson Regional Park will stretch along the upper front face of Mount Benson. An adjacent 383 hectares of Provincial Crown Land is currently leased to Malaspina University-College as a teaching woodlot which protects it against clearcutting. Discussions are underway with Island Timberlands and Timber West to purchase or swap other properties on the mountain’s front face. Together, NALT and the RDN hope to develop a comprehensive management plan for the mountain.
Aside from its aesthetic value, the Mount Benson Regional Park will make Nanaimo a Canadian eco-tourism superstar with hiking and mountain biking in summer and cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing in winter. The mountain park will complement the existing Newcastle Island Provincial Marine Park and splendid Pipers Lagoon and Neck Point parks further up the coast. Virgin rainforests in the nearby Linley Valley are also undergoing park development.
The Mount Benson fundraising campaign will close on February 27, 2008, and at last report local businesses and individuals had donated $400,000, still short of the $475,000 NALT has pledged to raise. To make a tax-deductible donation to the Save Mount Benson Campaign, contact the NALT Stewardship Centre, 140 Wallace Street, Nanaimo, tel. (250) 714-1990. Photos and travel information on Nanaimo are available at http://www.gonanaimo.com/