Jim Sawada has been looking after Cottonwood Falls Park for decades: pruning, weeding, planting, watering, landscaping, organizing. But he says he’s getting on in years, as are many other members of the Nelson Izushi Friendship Society, and they aren’t sure they can keep it up any more.
“I come down here as much as I can,” Sawada says, “but I am falling further and further behind.”
The group was formed when Nelson formed its sister-city relationship with Shuzenji (now known as Izushi), Japan in 1987. Both cities built a park in each other’s honour: Cottonwood Falls Park in Nelson and a Nelson park in Izushi complete with a miniature orange bridge.
Aside from the development of the park, the Nelson group’s main activity has been two-week high-school student exchanges between the two cities. Society past president Bruce Walgren talks fondly of those trips.
“Those were really good days,” he says. “They were homestay exchanges. I went with the students in 1995. My homestay passed away since, but his daughter is married and we exchange letters for birthdays. These are lifetime friendships.”
Bob Adams also went to Japan with the students before he became a Nelson city councillor.
“I went on the 1990 exchange when they opened the Nelson park there,” Adams says. “We were living with a family, mom and dad and some kids. It was excellent. Their kids came over and stayed with us in Nelson.”
“They looked after our kids and we looked after theirs,” says Sawada, who grew up in Japan but has lived here since the 1950s.
Sawada said the exchange student groups would each spend a day doing maintenance work in the park of their host country.
The earthquake changed everything
Beginning around 2005, exchanges got gradually harder to organize because of increasing travel expenses.
Then in 2011 the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. No one in Canada wanted to travel to Izushi even though it is 250 miles from the earthquake zone, and there has not been an exchange since.
In the meantime, the park, the embodiment of the relationship between Nelson and Izushi, continues to need maintenance. Currently the society gets some assistance from the city and occasionally from Trafalgar school students, the Nelson Garden Club, other community groups, and one of the park’s designers, Hiro Okusa of Vancouver, who visits once in a while to help, his most recent stint being just last week when he spent some time pruning trees and reinforcing a rock wall.
Adams says the city should take over the maintenance of the park, although that is his own opinion and he isn’t speaking as a city councillor.
“When we started,” says Walgren, “everybody in the society thought that when it was finished it would revert to the city for maintenance and the society would help.” But he said there is no written agreement to that effect.
“I proposed to the mayor,” says Sawada, “that there is a guy in the parks personnel who really likes the Japanese garden, and they should assign him to the garden for two days a month.”
But Sawada says that would be a minimum, and he would actually like a bigger contribution than that.
“The city should get 50 per cent involved rather than occasional help. That is my wish. They would have to hire one more gardener.”
Kozak: it’s on the table
Mayor Deb Kozak says the city already has many parks, and the issue of Cottonwood Falls Park will be on the table at council’s annual priority setting session this fall.
“It is a shame the society is struggling because they made an extremely big contribution to the city,” she says. “There was a big vision around that garden. The park would not look as it does today without their vision and that drive.”
She said council is also going to have to prioritize two newly proposed parks: one at Red Sands Beach (given to the city by the developer of Nelson Landing) and the other on property recently vacated by the transfer station, which, Kozak points out, is planned as part of a continuation of the waterfront pathway from the lake through the new Railtown development to Cottonwood Falls.
She said other parks in the city are sponsored by community groups — Lions Park, Gyro Park, and Lakeside Rotary Park — and perhaps a community organization might come forward to replace the Izushi Society.
“The city staff work with volunteers to help maintain those parks,” she said. “We are going to have to pay attention to what elements we have in our parks, what it takes to maintain them, and what people want to pay for.
“But it is an important park for us and we are going to figure out how to maintain it.”