Red tape is threatening to put an end to a free program that provides monthly tours of Riverview’s heritage trees.
And volunteers are wondering if a crackdown by BC Housing is bringing an end to public access to the 244-acre site.
For a quarter of a century, the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society (RHCS) has been working towards the preservation of a century-old tree collection while taking members of the public on guided walks of the grounds.
But new rules and fees are making it difficult for the group to continue its work, says member Norma Gillespie.
“They’re making it a challenge for us to offer what we have been offering as a public service for many, many years,” she told The Tri-City News. “It is worrying.”
Over the past few years, since BC Housing took over the management of the site, the group has faced a barrage of paperwork, including a requirement to sign a licence, which restricts access to the property except in designated areas, for each walk and the annual Treefest.
The most recent issue came up this year when BC Housing required the society to pay $50 an hour for a location fixer — a professional who usually does location work for the film industry — to be on hand during free monthly tree tours.
The group struggled but came up with $500 as a deposit at a time when it was grieving the loss of Donna Crosby, a longtime RHCS member and secretary who usually dealt with the group’s paperwork and with BC Housing.
And more money will likely be needed in the future if tree tours continue and Gillespie said she is disheartened with the latest BC Housing directive.
“After our last meeting when we talked about this, we’ve been doing these walks for 20-odd years and we haven’t been able to save that site. We’re not making any changes, we’re just letting BC Housing tell us what we should do.”
In addition to staying out of buildings and filing notice of event location, the group may have to supply toilet paper if there is none in the outdoor washrooms in the Serenity Gardens, The Tri-City News was told by another RHCS member.
Gillespie said she hopes a letter-writing campaign will spark some anger in the community.
Coun. Craig Hodge, who chairs the Riverview Lands Advisory Committee, said he will bring the issue up at city council.
“The last thing we want to see is extra paperwork on our volunteers and extra costs from our community groups to limit access to the site,” he told The Tri-City News.
Environmental groups that advocate for the preservation of the Riverview lands, including the trees planted by B.C.’s first provincial botanist in 1911, have other concerns as well.
Elaine Golds of the Burke Mountain Naturalists says BC Housing has placed restrictions on tampering with plant material larger than four centimetres, which could stop volunteers from clearing invasive blackberry bushes.
“We have a big problem with a number of locations where there are blackberries, where they are a tripping hazard. We’ve been told we can’t do that anymore,” Golds said.
Currently, construction is underway at Riverview for a new adolescent treatment centre for youth and a new provincial assessment centre, with occupancy planned for spring 2019.
A spokesperson for BC Housing said she could not comment on the new rules and fees for RHCS during an election campaign but The Tri-City News was directed to a website that lays out requirements for public access to the property. It’s available at renewingriverview.com/about-riverview.
The next tree tour is a Heritage Backyard Walk and takes place April 22. More information is available at www.rhcs.org.