Sand Dollars & Angel Investors
August 2013

July 30th, 2013

Some friends — far more skilled and talented campers than us — recommended we pitch our tent at Rathtrevor Provincial Park this summer. It was a solid tip: Rathtrevor was well worth the ferry ride to Vancouver Island. In fact it was our first truly successful camping trip. It was certainly more fun than last year’s disastrous expedition.

With immaculate campsites, campfire programs, and a wide, crescent-shaped beach, Rathtrevor is among the best campgrounds in the province. The beach is a beauty. It’s a joy to walk down to it along the sandy forest trail, anticipating the moment when the sharp smell of evergreens gives way to the tang of seaweed.

The tides at Rathtrevor go out for over a kilometre, revealing acres of wet sand scattered with snail shells and sand dollars. It’s a perfect spot for tidepooling and long rambling walks.

We spent two sunny afternoons poking around in shallow pools for sea creatures and two evenings in the outdoor amphitheatre listening to presentations about marine life and habitat preservation.

The kids loved those campfire programs. After dinner (and before toasted marshmallows) we trekked down to a wooded glen with a stream of other campers – many of them already in pajamas – to sit on long wooden benches and learn about nature. Loaded with visual aides, goofy jokes and opportunities for audience participation, the programs were perfectly geared towards children.

I was surprised to learn, though, that the park’s educational programs – the visitor centres and interpretive presentations – no longer receive any funding from the provincial government. The bigger surprise was that the funding cuts came over ten years ago, under the last Liberal government.

How have they kept their programs going with no funding? Through donations, gift shops and ice cream sales, mainly. Their situation sounds depressingly precarious.

On our way out of the park on our last morning at Rathtrevor, we visited the Nature House — a little yellow-trimmed cottage filled with taxidermied animals, hand-painted displays and bins of shells and animal bones labelled, invitingly, “please touch!”. After we’d explored the displays, we bought a few trinkets. It was for a good cause, after all. The staff member behind the till explained that the care of the campground has long been contracted out to a private company: RLC Park Services, which maintains Rathtrevor as well as several other campgrounds on the island.

The Nature Houses (there are three scattered along the east coast of the island) raise money to run their programs through donations and sales. Whatever shortfall there is, she said, RLC Park Services covers.

“He pays for it out of his own pocket,” she said of the company’s owner, “because he thinks it’s important.”

Her attitude was one of resignation mixed with resolve.

“We’ll just keep going and stay open as long as we can,” she said.

Interpretive programs like the ones at Rathtrevor enrich our experience of the natural world and educate children about the environment. Now that the government has stepped back from such projects, it’s up to private business owners to decide their fate. It’s a situation I’d find thoroughly depressing if I hadn’t learned about this company, one that’s built on passion and generosity and a desire to go beyond what’s expected.

It’s comforting to know that, although money is tight and the outlook uncertain, Vancouver Island’s parks are in such good hands. 

See more at: http://rachelsanders.com/blog/

Sand Dollars & Angel Investors