A rocky, forested island less than an hour away by car and ferry from Vancouver could become home to a new national park, Environment Minister Jim Prentice says.
Parks Canada plans to complete the feasibility assessment for Bowen Island, which would involve consultations with island residents, provincial and municipal governments and local first nations, in less than a year.
The process "should not drag on," Mr. Prentice told The Globe and Mail on Thursday. "There will be extensive consultations as to whether to proceed or not. If not, we move on to other things. If it's a yes, then let's get on with it."
Parks Canada's decision to assess the potential for a national park on Bowen Island comes at the request of the municipal government and follows years of wrangling over the fate of Cape Roger Curtis, an undeveloped area on the southwestern tip of the island.
That site has been the subject of intense community debate since 2004, when developers bought it from long-time family owners. Currently, developers are marketing the first phase of a subdivision of 59, 10-acre lots - with an average price of $2-million - after municipal council in 2009 nixed a plan that would have kept more than half the site as park in exchange for allowing up to 600 housing units on the property.
Parks Canada is aware of the controversy over the Cape Roger Curtis lands but does not expect to look at any privately owned land as part of its assessment, Mr. Prentice said.
"There is no intention to purchase those development lands, or to expropriate them either," Mr. Prentice said. "There [is]extensive public land already that creates an opportunity for consolidation."
More than 40 per cent of the island's land mass consists of Crown land or other government-owned sites.
Parks Canada is interested in the site for ecological reasons and because of its locale. Bowen Island, located at the entrance of Howe Sound, is about 20 kilometres northwest of Vancouver and blanketed by stands of Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar. It's a popular day-trip destination and easily accessible from the mainland.
"It is quite proximate to an urban centre and that is something that we are seeking to improve," Mr. Prentice said, adding that easily accessible parks fit with Ottawa's strategic desire to foster public support for the national park system.
Some Bowen residents have already expressed concerns about a potential national park, worrying that such an attraction would bring more traffic and visitors and change the nature of the areas it is supposed to protect.
Such concerns are understandable and are expected to feature prominently in the assessment process, Mr. Prentice said.
The idea would be to balance ecological protection with the greater visibility and access that would come along with a national park designation.
"It's not incompatible to protect the system and make it more possible for people to enjoy it at the same time," he said.
Bowen Island Mayor Bob Turner has previously said a national park could help generate employment and help protect area watersheds.