There are articles in the newspapers this weekend: the Department of National Defense says they will be patrolling the lands associated with their rifle range, and bringing punitive measures against trespassers (hikers, bikers, etc.).
There are comments flying from either side, which I will summarize in the best way I can:
- "It's ridiculous that they are asserting this now, all of a sudden. The safety concerns are baseless."
- "I recognize that it's their land and that they have the legal right to punish trespassers; however, it is a major blow to Nanaimo (to its residents and to its tourism interests) to restrict such an integral piece of recreational space."
- "It's their land, they can do what they want. Stop whining. And why should we look out for the safety of anyone stupid enough to hike near an active range? Do us a favour and get yourself shot."
I have always hiked the Ridges (perhaps 75 times in 8 years) and have never before worried about the range. However, in looking at the 3D view in Google Earth (see first image below), I can see why there is a safety concern. The image shows how the line of fire points toward the Ridges.
The safety concern is real. But I would argue that the rifle range should be relocated. Yes, I know it would cost money, and would impinge on the interests of those (military/RCMP/civilian) who currently use the range. I don't make this suggestion lightly. The reason I would support such a coup is because the range can be relocated, whereas the Westwood Ridge trail system cannot.
This map shows my general understanding of the land which is being declared off limits (as you can see, it is a substantial piece of greenspace, in a very convenient location for residents/tourists):
Some will argue that there are other spaces available to the recreational users. While this is true, the inventory should be considered (see the image below). I have marked the areas that are available in this category of use: rugged terrain that is suitable for hikers, runners, and mountain bikers.
- Lantzville Foothills: Residential subdivision began about 10 years ago. While the development is currently snagged, this area is not part of the recreational inventory any more.
- Ammonite Falls area (Benson Creek Falls Regional Park): This is not a large area, and is mostly too steep for biking/running, unless one moves beyond the park borders into the university research forests.
- The Witchcraft Lake trails are too steep for biking, or for less fit hikers/runners.
- The Westwood Ridge system is perfectly located as a supplement to the already-popular Westwood Lake/Morrell Sanctuary park system.
In other words, the Westwood Ridges (including Roberts Roost) are a unique resource and must be considered for protection as a vital recreational resource in Nanaimo.
If anyone knows of any reason why the same argument can be made by the DND ("That is the only land which can be used for our purposes, too") I would urge them to explain why that is the case. Currently, I assume that there are a lot of suitable alternate locations for the rifle range.