Foundation donates $6 million to purchase and restore Englishman River estuary

From left to right: Emily Griffiths-Hamilton, Nature Trust of BC chair, Jasper Lament, Nature Trust of BC CEO, Summer and Chip Wilson, founders of the Wilson 5 Foundation unveil the Wilson Nature Park sign at the Englishman River estuary on Sept. 16. || Photo by Kevin Forsyth.
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The Wilson 5 Foundation has donated $6 million to the Nature Trust of BC to allow it to purchase Mariner Way in Parksville, a 2.8-hectare property at the mouth of the Englishman River. The announcement was made at the site on the morning of Sept. 16.

The land acquisition is a critical step to re-naturalize and restore the tidal flow of the estuary and ultimately enhance the ecosystem function of the entire river, according to the Nature Trust of BC, which now owns 67.4 hectares in the estuary and has conserved 244.3 hectares along the river.

The Englishman River is located in the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone, which is B.C.’s most endangered zone. Since the late 1800s, its estuary has been impacted by dikes, roads and residential and industrial development. Portions of the estuary are almost completely cut off from natural tidal, river and nearshore processes and has become less accessible for fish and wildlife that would normally use these habitats to shelter, feed and rear their young, according to Nature Trust of BC.

“The Englishman River estuary is really famous as a migratory bird stopover, especially during the spring,” said Jasper Lament, CEO of the Nature Trust of BC. “The Black Brant is a goose, which migrates from Mexico and California to the Parksville-Qualicum area and spends a few weeks here each March and they enjoy the herring spawn and fuel up for an amazing flight that takes them to their breeding grounds in Alaska.”

Work will begin next year on removing infrastructure, such as power lines, asphalt and hazardous materials in the buildings on the site, according to Lament. The Nature Trust of BC will develop a site plan, which will include planting native species.

“It’s going to be quite a process to re-naturalize it. We’re gaining a lot of experience in re-naturalizing properties on Vancouver Island and across the province, so we’ll be bringing some of those learnings to this particular project,” Lament said.

A mixture of shrubs and trees will be planted in the higher elevation areas and intertidal plant species will be able to regenerate along where the uplands grade into the estuary, according to Lament. The re-naturalization will likely take a few years, he added.

The donation was made by the founders of lululemon and current owners of Arc’teryx, Chip and Summer Wilson and their five sons.

“Conservation of land is important to us, not only as a family, but as British Columbians who care deeply about preserving land for all to enjoy for generations to come,” said foundation co-founder, Summer Wilson. “We are thrilled to partner with the Nature Trust of BC to support the Englishman River and Salish Sea and to create a dedicated park accessible to everyone to explore nature, birdwatch and exercise.”

The foundation has funded both purchase of the property and the cost to remove the old infrastructure. It also created a land management endowment for future management of the property, according to Lament.

In June 2021, the Wilson 5 Foundation donated $4 Million to the BC Parks Foundation to protect West Ballenas Island, Saturnina Island and 250 acres of waterfront on Lasqueti Island in support of the threatened Salish Sea ecosystem.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Nature Trust of BC has secured 500 conservation properties, including nine properties along the Englishman River. The Nature Trust of BC now owns 67.4 hectares in the estuary and has successfully conserved 244.3 hectares along the Englishman River.

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