Park watch program provides peace of mind to locals, tourists

Patrols in parks begin during the May long weekend and run through June every weekend.

For years, parking lots in local parks were easy pickings for countless thieves who waited to feast.

Many still do, but something’s changed to curb their appetite.

In 2001, a group of citizens formed what became known as the Park Watch Patrol program, an initiative to prevent theft from vehicles, break-ins and vandalism in provincial parks.

Suddenly, the watchers became the watched.

Until that point, park visitors lived in terror, recalled the program’s coordinator Marie Mills.

“Many people would not go to parks in fear of not having their car broken into,” she said.

Up to 16 patrollers are on the watch, each of whom individually patrols in his assigned park. The watch serves in parks from Matheson Lake to Aylard Farm (East Sooke and Pike Road parking areas), Sooke Potholes, French Beach, China Beach and Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew.

Patrols in parks start during the May long weekend and run through June every weekend. In July and August, the watch goes full-throttle into seven days a week coverage, right through the long weekend in September.

Split between part volunteer and part paid staff, Mills said the program has worked out well since its inception 10 years ago.

“We find now that the thieves leave once they know Park Watch is starting here, they go up Island, which doesn’t hurt our feelings at all. They go to Duncan, Cowichan, Colwood, they just mostly avoid the parks we’re at.”

To keep those flashlights lit and eyes peeled open, the program receives donations from local businesses as well as grateful visitors who are pleased to find their car (and belongings inside) intact.

People travelling far out of town often specifically call to see if any patrollers will be in the park watching, just to know their car is under watch by the good guys.

The patrollers also act as ambassadors, providing useful information and directions to tourists looking to find their way, or addressing possible safety concerns.

The program is also supported by a contribution of $10,000 a year from the Capital Regional District, said Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks, who believes the patrollers are “really undervalued” for their efforts.

“They’re absolutely tremendous and we depend on them in the regional parks. We just find them invaluable,” he said.

Hicks said the extra pair of eyes helps local tourism by simply providing peace of mind.

“Tourism depends on having a great experience. If you go to a park and come back to your car and it’s vandalized, it’s a lousy experience, you generally don’t come back.”

“When people go out to the beach, instead of coming back to their car that is broken into, they come back to a safe car and a friendly face.”

For more info on the park watch program, email parkwatch@shaw.ca.