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Land trust wants to protect Admirals' legacy

Denyse Koo checks out the map of the trails on Admiral Charles
Denyse Koo checks out the map of the trails on Admiral Charles' property.
— image credit: Pirjo Raits

Tromping through the woods above Gordon’s Beach with Denyse Koo, one is taken with the passion and respect she has for the land once owned by Admiral Charles. She gazes across to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and takes in the beauty. An avid hiker and horseback rider, Koo has probably walked and ridden across the entire 126-acre piece of private property and she would like to see some of it become a public park, but the price tag is larger than a small group can handle.

Koo is one of the founders of the Juan de Fuca Communitiy Land Trust Society and she envisions the land set aside undisturbed for future generations.

The society states, the Juan de Fuca area west of Sooke has been long known as a recreational paradise. People from the Southern tip of Vancouver Island and all across the world are drawn by the rugged beauty, access to water and beautiful forest land. This forest land is increasingly under pressure from development and resource use. However, in a small corner of Otter Point, a group of concerned citizens are trying to prevent the loss of a hidden gem of mature second growth and bring it into public use.

It is a portion of the 126-acre parcel in Otter Point purchased in the 1960’s by Admiral John Charles and his wife, Mary. Over the next 50 years, Admiral Charles worked to restore the forest, leaving the old growth intact, planting seedlings from the property and culling trees to sell for lumber. His parcel was registered as Private Managed Forest and through his efforts, the Admiral created a wildly beautiful place, all crisscrossed with trails. As private land, the forest is only accessible to the Charles family, and to certain of the neighbours welcomed to ride the trails on their horses.

John Alexander Charles was an Admiral of the Royal Canadian Navy. He commanded a squadron of destroyers in the Korean conflict and was a Commandant of Royal Roads Military College. He also served as Deputy Chief of Defense Staff. Admiral Charles retired to Sooke in 1975 to a 65-acre property on Otter Ridge where he built his house. The Admiral passed away in September 2010, at age 92. The day before he passed he was on his land milling lumber from his windfall. The Admiral was very active in the community and could be relied on for all sorts of support. He was a Director of the Otter Point and Shirley Residents and Ratepayers Association (OPSRRA).

The recently incorporated Juan de Fuca Community Land Trust would like to purchase approximately 70 acres as public green space.

It will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $700,000 to $1million, said Koo.

After 50 years of careful preservation, it would be a shame to have one of the few remaining forest stands in Otter Point cut or subdivided for development.

Why this property? There are many reasons- perhaps the simplest one is that infrastructure and accessibility are already in place. Much of this wild and rugged property would be readily accessible for most of the year because of the tracks already in place.  Many of the tracks could be made handicapped accessible, as well. At present, only one half of one per cent of Otter Point is held as park land.

“It would be a shame to waste the immense effort of Admiral Charles over so many years to carefully work with this land and the ecosystems only to log or develop it,” said Margot Swinburnson, president of the Juan de Fuca Community Land Trust Society.

Sid Jorna, a director on the society, and president of the Juan de Fuca Community Trails Society, is passionate about this forest. “There are fewer and fewer tracts of land like this available, and the trail systems in our area have been significantly depleted over the last few years.”

The Juan de Fuca Community Land Trust Society is now ready and eager to bring their plans forward to the public at a General Meeting to be held in the Otter Point Fire Hall on Wednesday, January 29 at 7:30 p.m.

(With info from JdFCLTS)

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