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More than a year after its public closure, the future of Kingzett Lake, also known as The Quarry, remains uncertain.
Owners Grant and Mark Dakus closed the popular recreation spot near Shawnigan Lake over safety concerns last summer. At the time, Grant Dakus expressed the brothers’ desire to see the land converted into a public park.
Now, the Cowichan Valley Regional District says they haven’t heard much from the property owners, and can’t proceed without them. The Discourse attempted multiple times to reach the Dakus brothers but did not receive a response.
“The CVRD, and the community, are interested in acquiring the quarry as parkland one day. But the owners have to be interested as well,” says Sierra Acton, CVRD’s director for Area B (Shawnigan Lake.)
In the summer of 2020, shortly after the area was closed to the public, an online petition was launched in an attempt to gain public support to convert the area to a public park. To date, it has received almost 15,000 signatures.
According to an article in Shawnigan Focus, extraction of limestone at that site dates back to 1886. And, from 1953 to 1979, 11.8 million tonnes of limestone were blasted and trucked away, leaving a hole that spans 20 acres. Since then the property has changed hands and seen various commercial development proposals. The current owners had plans for a 325-home subdivision before environmental contamination issues stalled the rezoning proposal.
Like most of the Cowichan Valley region, the privatization of this land dates back to the 1887 E&N Land Grant, which the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group calls “the Great Land Grab,” “an act of egregious piracy,” “a clear act of colonial theft” and “a largely invisible stain on B.C. history.”
Today, efforts to create new parkland and protected areas in the Cowichan region are frustrated by the hangover from this history. The challenges and opportunities are outlined in Seeing Cowichan Forests Beyond Trees, a recent report by the Cowichan Community Land Trust.
Often, creating new parks means buying the land from a forestry company or other private land owner. For example, BC Parks purchased the land for the recently announced Hwsalu-utsum Park, a size of 143 hectares, from Island Timberlands in 2018 for $7.15 million.
The CVRD collects tax revenue every year towards the purchase of parkland. The fund was established in 2008 after residents voted to support it in a referendum. In the 2021 budget the CVRD accounted for $750,000 toward this fund, out of a maximum $958,000 it could have requisitioned. The tax impact to property owners is $2.96 for each $100,000 of property value.
The quarry is mentioned in the CVRD’s 2007 Regional Parks and Trails Master Plan as a high priority for acquisition.
But paying market rates for the full quarry property is well beyond CVRD’s ability to pay, Acton says.
The property owners previously had 568 acres listed for $6,950,000 — and that was a decade ago.
But there are other ways to achieve the same goal. For example, the CVRD could make a deal to allow development of some of the property in exchange for acquiring a piece of it as a park.
The CVRD has not received any proposal from the brothers regarding the future of the property, Acton says. She adds the CVRD would be open to conversation with both the land owners and community about the topic.
Her vision for the future of the property includes a progressive community, including a potential mountain-biking village, filled with walking and bike trails, and access to the lake. However, she would like to see the community consulted before any decisions are made.
“I think it needs to be blue-skied with the community, and see what great ideas are out there. But it is a really unique property, it pretty much has a blank slate. You could do whatever you want with it,” Acton says.
The CVRD’s vision, she explains, would include the conversion of the quarry into parkland, with trails and safe swimming.
Acton says her lines are open if the landowners want to begin a discussion.