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ABOUT NELSON: From Nelson’s nature park to people playground

Donna Macdonald writes about the development of Rosemont’s park
Part of the dirt bike track and skatepark are seen here at Nelson’s Art Gibbon Park in Rosemont. Photo: Donna Macdonald

by Donna Macdonald

When my daughter was small, we loved to explore Rosemont Park. It was a tiny urban forest, perfect for child-sized imaginations with its mysterious paths and hiding places for children and treasures. It was brushy and sometimes a bit dark under all those trees, making it ideal for adventures with a tinge of danger. There were no built structures, other than a few benches.

Today, it’s an entirely different place, offering an array of constructed activities. So how did that happen?

In the tradition of service clubs stewarding city parks (think Lion’s, Gyro and Rotary parks), the Kiwanis Club assumed that role for Rosemont Park in 1990. Ten years later they renamed the park to honour prominent Kiwanis member Art Gibbon. Kiwanis volunteers kept the park clean and pleasant for many years, and people came to treasure it.

The first hint of change was the sale of land adjacent to the park for housing. The golf course was expanding from nine to 18 holes, and the surplus land sales helped fund the development of the course. It opened in 1993, and the nearness of homes to the park became accepted. I noticed on a recent walk that some yards have chain link fences and private signs while others remain open, allowing private to meet public.

After some time, a dirt bike course started to evolve in one corner of the park, and around the council table the words “scary” and “liability” were common. The police and fire departments took an interest too. The police wanted to remove the snags (dead standing trees) and clear the brush and understory for public safety reasons. The fire department agreed because that was also good fire prevention.

The idea was controversial. Many users wanted the park to remain natural. So did biologists who defended the snags and promoted a variety of vegetation, all to provide habitat and food in an ecosystem that included birds, bats, mammals, insects, and of course people.

It was time for a plan. In 2008, after a couple years of consultation, city council approved a park improvement plan. It included many amenities that now exist: a straw-bale washroom, a leisure path, a larger bike park (2011), a children’s playground (2019), and accessible walkways (2021). There you go – plans do really matter!

What wasn’t in the plan was an outdoor skatepark. Support for one in Nelson had grown but as usual in our mountain town, the question was where? Skateparks are pretty noisy, and can be rowdy, but those concerns can also be managed. Eventually, a bit of flat land at the eastern edge of Art Gibbon Park was chosen, and so far as I know neighbours’ worries were addressed. The adjacent Jubilee Manor folks, for example, have easy access to the paved walkway, with its shady benches and picnic tables.

Around this time, the Daybreak Rotary Club became involved as the Kiwanis stepped back. Rotarians worked with skatepark advocates and the city to build the park, which opened in 2014. Now kids (big and little) can whiz, fly, jump and do crazy tricks to their hearts’ content.

A nine-hole disc golf course was also not in the plan. It was built in 2020 and extends throughout the treed portion of the park. When the plan was approved in 2008, council passed a second motion requiring future management to focus on the overall health of the forest, while also managing fire risk. That got lost along the way and now we have a stand of trees, with no undergrowth, few snags and no low branches. It’s great for disc golf and it certainly mitigates fire risk, which is a much greater issue now than in 2008.

While I miss Rosemont Park and the lost natural environment, I acknowledge that Art Gibbon Park provides a landscape of fun outdoor activities, and it’s still a lovely place. Go have a look.

Donna Macdonald has lived in Nelson since 1972, and is the author of Surviving City Hall, a memoir of her 19 years on Nelson City Council. Her column appears monthly.