Damaging the serene

Kersley residents dismayed with vandalism in pristine recreational area

Larry Martens checks one of the many birch trees damaged by having its bark removed for fire starter. This will cause the tree to die.

The residents of Kersley, 13 miles south of Quensel, are proud of what they have accomplished. There’s a well-maintained arena and community hall, many community activities and a pristine wilderness area called Sisters Creek Recreation Area (formerly known as the lease lands), administered by Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, Recreation Sites and Trail Branch, as the property is Crown land.

A dedicated band of community volunteers maintain the local amenities including the rec area and despite repeated vandalism, valiantly keep up the fight.

In the community, volunteer Vince Berlinguette spoke of pushed over school signs, shoulder and road damage, lawns at the community hall torn up and other damage over the years.

“It seems to ebb and flow, each time we have a whole new crop getting their licence, it seems to escalate,” he said.

And, Berlinguette added, there’s the chronic problem of broken bottles and cans.

However, these problems can’t compare to the damage to the recreation area. Originally railroad property, it remained largely unimproved until 2003 when the threat of wildfires created a hazard concern.

The community looked to improve the roads crisscrossing the area and thinning the trees and removing combustible underbrush.

“As we were doing this we also wanted to improve the trails already in use,” volunteer Larry Martens said.

The lease lands were always popular with the 4X4 and motorbike crowd and both Martens and Berlinguette said they weren’t looking to discourage those who enjoy that kind of outdoor activity, they just wanted it to be safe and ensure the area was useable for everyone.

In 2009, under direction from CRD, Sisters Creek Recreation Area was open to the public with trails, including a wheelchair accessible trail, outside toilets, picnic areas with lawns and fire pits as well as extensive 4X4 and motorcycle trails.

“So they had somewhere to rip around,” Berlinguette said.

“But we became a target because we improved the area.”

And shortly after opening, they noticed vandalism at the heritage site shelter.

In 1914, Theodore and Cornelia Arnoldus arrived in the Kersley area and setup home close to where the shelter now sits. They are considered one of the pioneering families in the area, with descendants who still call Kersley home.

The shelter displays a picture of the couple and a brief summary of their lives in the area including Cornelia’s daily trek to Sisters Creek (about 2 km down a steep hill) for domestic water.

The vandalism was in the form of graffiti, broken bottles and downing of trees for firewood.

“I decided to bring firewood so no one needed to cut down trees,” Martens said.

“It took me all summer.”

But this year the vandals may have pushed the local community volunteers too far.

“They ripped the side from the shelter,” Berlinguette said.

“And what kind of a mindset sees it’s okay to rip off the vent pipes on the outhouses.”

Martens was outraged when they discovered someone had taken a knife and cut the pictures on the shelter walls.

“That seems to say they are dangerous,” Martens added.

Once again, Martens, Berlinguette and other volunteers will take the time and energy to fix up what has been damaged.

“How many times do you fix it before you get too damn old to do it anymore,” Berlinguette said.

“So many people in Kersley have worked hard to improve the area and most appreciate the improvements. They’re saddened and angered to see the damage.”

Martens went on to say this is a regional park, summer and winter, used by Kersley people as well as people from around the region.

“It’s a shame to see it spoiled.”

He added it’s disheartening to see huge boulders moved so vandals can 4X4 on the wheelchair trails.

“There’s a big burn mark on the concrete picnic table as well,” he said.

“We’ve had such good people enjoy the area but it only takes a couple of bad eggs to ruin it for the rest.”

Both men admit there’s not much they can do about it but both agreed they’d like to let the public and especially neighbours know what’s going on and maybe they could help report suspicious activity or out-of-control vehicles to the police.

In the meantime, they’re back out fixing the destroyed shelter wall and returning fire pits to their rightful place in the ground; determining which trees they have to take out due to irreversible fatal damage; and bringing in even bigger boulders to try and discourage wanton vandalism.

As long as they’re able, Martens, Berlinguette and a vanguard of volunteers will battle the ravages of the unknown vandals, in the name of community spirit.

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