Park Watch: Keeping an eye on the parks

Yearly program helps prevent auto theft and break-ins

Park enthusiasts can now visit the region’s lush forests and beaches with peace of mind, as the Park Watch Patrol are now on duty.

The JDF Regional Park Watch Society started up their patrol officer program on the May long weekend to deter vehicle theft and break-ins.

The program currently has 10 patrollers vigilantly watching for mischief makers and thieves in parking lots at Matheson Park, both ends of East Sooke Park, the CRD upper and lower parking lots at the Sooke Potholes, French Beach, China Beach, and Botanical Beach.

The society will dispatch an additional four to six patrol officers during the peak summer months in July and August.

Lavyna Alexander, JDF Regional Park Watch Society board member, said the patrollers also provide visitors with general information, water, and carry cellphones in the event police, rescue services or tow trucks need to be called .

Alexandra also said everyone is trained in first aid, should first response be required.

“Most of the people that we have are very avid believers that parks are very important places, that they provide us with a lot of very healthy recreational possibilities.”

Alexandra could not disclose the duration of the program, but said with additional funding, the JDF Regional Park Watch Society hopes it can run year-round.

“We will carry it forward as far as we can with the funding that we have.”

The Park Watch Patrol program began in 2001, initiated by the now defunct society Community Futures. It was started up after local business owners realized the number of break-ins and thefts from vehicles in parks was financially detrimental to tourism.

The program has been a success ever since.

“We have never had a break-in while there have been patrollers in the parks,” Alexandra said, adding the program has been applauded by local RCMP.

“The RCMP, the first couple of years we were doing this, noted that there was a dramatic drop in problems.”

The program currently runs on a budget of $60,000, according to Marie Mills, JDF Regional Park Watch Society volunteer treasurer and program co-ordinator.

One third of the funds are donated by park visitors and the remaining two thirds comes from core sponsorships.

Board members act as volunteers, but patrol officers are paid.

Donations can be made online here: http://bit.ly/Mfprqu