A Community Treasure

Cumberland Community Forest Society gears up to save more of the Village’s treasured forest

“The entire Valley uses this forest as their playground, <a href=

order ” says Andrew Nicol, prothesis president of the CCFS, oncologist with Meaghan Cursons, the society’s community and outreach coordinator. “This forest doesn’t just belong to the residents of Cumberland—it’s here for everyone who calls this Valley their home.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt” src=”https://www.infocusmagazine.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/cumberland-forest-602×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> “The entire Valley uses this forest as their playground,” says Andrew Nicol, president of the CCFS, with Meaghan Cursons, the society’s community and outreach coordinator. “This forest doesn’t just belong to the residents of Cumberland—it’s here for everyone who calls this Valley their home.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Though my favorite trail around Cumberland is officially named Space Nugget, I call it a little piece of heaven. Heavily wooded, the spongy and meandering trail is hugged on all sides by bright green ferns, moss covered trees, and mushroom studded hills. Quite simply, Space Nugget is a jewel in Cumberland’s cap.

Entering Space Nugget is like falling into the rabbit hole. Just a few steps from Cumberland’s quaint downtown core, once you’re in the dim, lush forest you’ll feel distanced from civilization. As you walk the trail you’ll hear the sound of your footfalls and the sound of your breathing. If you listen carefully, you may hear the sound of the forest as the wind whispers through and strokes the trees. It feels soothingly lonely. However, you’ll probably meet someone along the way, because Space Nugget, like the rest of Cumberland’s trails, is popular with walkers, runners and mountain bikers. But after a friendly smile and a wave it will just be you and the forest again.

But this lovely trail and the forests surrounding it may soon be nothing more than a clear cut.

Space Nugget is just a small parcel of second growth, closed canopy forest near Cumberland that is slated to be logged as early as 2015. Like nearly all of the land that surrounds the Village of Cumberland, this beautiful forest is privately owned by a US based logging company—part of a legacy of the E&N Land Transfer that took place in the late 1800s, when two million acres of land along the eastern side of Vancouver Island transferred into private hands in exchange for agreements to construct a railway that would stretch from Victoria to Courtenay.

But the news isn’t entirely bleak—there is hope for Cumberland’s forest. Thirteen years ago the situation was the same, as forest land adjacent to Cumberland was literally on the chopping block. When residents realized they may lose their forest forever they banded together, fundraised, organized, and eventually raised $1.2 million to purchase 71 hectares of land. Immediately, a land-use covenant was put on the lands to ensure that they remain parkland and the ownership was passed to the Village of Cumberland. The Cumberland Community Forest was created, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But history is about to repeat itself, as the Cumberland Community Forest Society is now gearing up for another big purchase to save more of Cumberland’s precious forest. “Our next purchase is critical to preserving key trails and protecting the southern view-scape of the Village,” says Andrew Nicol, president of the Cumberland Community Forest Society (CCFS).

“We’re currently looking at three pieces of land that total over 50 hectares. The first piece contains some of the original mountain biking trails built in the area, including Black Hole and Space Nugget. The second part is behind the historic Chinatown site and it contains trails including Buggered Pig and Bronco’s Perseverance.

“The third piece is the beautiful forest just beyond the #1 Japanese townsite and includes the Perseverance Creek wetlands—a stunning natural area. We’re also exploring the possibility of a multi-use boardwalk as part of this project.  This could create accessibility for visitors of diverse ability while at the same time protecting a fragile natural area.”

In order to purchase the land and save the forest, CCFS needs to raise $1.2 million—and they need to be quick about it.  “It took us five years to raise the same amount last time,” says Nicol. “Now we only have two years.”

Still, Nicol is positive they can reach their goal—not only because they’ve done it before, but because they know that the community values the forest. “It really is amazing, people are coming out of the woodwork and stepping up to do anything they can to save the forest,” says Nicol.

For example, one man is offering his time doing odd jobs around town, and giving all the proceeds to the CCFS. Artists are donating their work to be auctioned off for the forest. And musicians are creating a CD that will be sold to raise funds.

“There is an incredible community behind this campaign,” says Meaghan Cursons, the community and outreach coordinator for CCFS.

To be successful, CCFS will need to garner contributions from individuals, partner organizations, private foundations and corporations. As well, CCFS will organize a variety of fundraising activities. “We’ve always had a measure of success with our fundraising events, but this year people are really stepping up and supporting us in amazing ways,” Nicol says. “There’s the Perseverance Trail Run, which raised $9,000 this year—twice what they raised last year. Our Fall Trivia Night sold out this year and raised $3,500.”

A huge part of their fundraising effort is gathering more monthly donors. Currently CCFS has 190 monthly donors, which brings in $5,600 each month. According to Nicol, these monthly donors have been pivotal for CCFS’s success.

“If it wasn’t for the monthly donors, we would not have been able to purchase what we did,” he says. “The monthly donations prove monthly income—that we can pay our bills. We can’t get traditional funding because our equity is a forest that will never be logged. However, we can get private loans from people who want to help. Our monthly income gives prospective donors the assurance that we’ll pay them back if they give us a loan. In essence, we are able to leverage the incredible generosity and commitment of our monthly donors into larger fund development.”

Since the monthly donor is so important to the goals of CCFS, they are putting a lot of attention into growing their pool of monthly donations. “Our goal is to get our monthly dollar amount up to $10,000 each month. Roughly speaking, we want to double our current donor amount—and we want to do that by next spring,” says Cursons.

CCFS hopes families and individuals will seriously consider becoming a monthly donor, and that current donors will consider raising the amount they donate each month. “Monthly donors are how we make these purchases possible and almost every day new donors are signing on to make sure we save these forests in time,” she adds.

Much of the forested land near Cumberland is a closed canopy forest, a dense growth of trees in which the top branches and leaves form a ceiling, or canopy, where light can barely penetrate to reach the forest floor. The limited sunlight reduces the amount of vegetation growing under and between the mature trees, leaving the ground mostly free of brush. As a result, the forest floors surrounding Cumberland are thick with not much more than green moss, ferns and salal. The occasional shaft of light penetrates the forest canopy, gloriously illuminating sections of green undergrowth. This type of forest also provides cool shade during the summer, and protection from the rain on a wet coastal day. Simply stated, the closed canopy forest is something special—something worth saving.

The forests surrounding Cumberland are extremely important to the animals and birds that call these forests home. These forests are part of a wildlife corridor that stretches from Comox Lake to the ocean. As a result, saving these forests is part of a larger scheme to save waterways and habitats used by wildlife to forage for food, move about, and breed. Essentially, it fits into a broader conservation strategy for the entire Valley.

Many at risk species of flora and fauna live in the forests near Cumberland, such as the red legged frog, the small eared bat, and the barred owl. Logging this area will essentially wipe out their habitat. As well, there are mushroom varieties here that only grow in dense, dark, forested areas. Currently, scientists are discovering that many types of mushrooms have immune boosting and bacteria fighting capabilities, so it’s important that we work to save the forests where these mushrooms are found. For example, there are many varieties of mushrooms now extinct in Europe due to the deforestation that occurred there decades ago. Some varieties of mushrooms now only exist here in the forests of the Pacific West Coast.

Perseverance Creek, deemed a sensitive habitat, is a major salmon bearing stream, home to Coho salmon, Cut-throat trout, and Dolly Varden. According to the Perseverance Creek Streamkeepers Society, the creek has already been negatively affected by logging that took place farther up the hills. When a forest is undisturbed, the forest floor acts like a sponge, holding water and slowly releasing it. When a forest is logged, the water just runs over the surface and down the slopes. Downstream, the creeks and rivers flood in the winter and experience drought conditions in the summer. These conditions make proper salmon spawning nearly impossible. Perseverance Creek is already struggling, and logging the forest that surrounds the lower reaches of the creek is sure to cause more serious problems to the existing salmon habitat.

Perseverance Creek is a large part of the main water supply for both Cumberland and Royston. In addition, Comox Lake, into which the creek drains, is the main reservoir for the rest of the Comox Valley’s water supply. Clearly, it’s important to protect the health of Perseverance Creek—to protect our watershed, and to protect an important salmon habitat.

Community members took part in an Indiegogo video shoot in November as part of the ongoing campaign to save the Cumberland Community Forest.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Community members took part in an Indiegogo video shoot in November as part of the ongoing campaign to save the Cumberland Community Forest. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

To Cursons and Nicol, the importance of the forest adjacent to Cumberland cannot be understated, as they both believe that the efforts of CCFS are globally significant. “Forests are critical to global well being and every effort to protect forest lands benefits the planet as a whole,” says Nicol.

Cursons agrees: “We’re not just doing this for our own backyard,” she says. “We’re doing this for global reasons.”

Cursons believes the forest surrounding Cumberland is pivotal to Cumberland as a whole. “Cumberland is a community that defines itself by its proximity to the woods,” she adds. “It’s a village in the forest.”

More and more, young families are choosing to call Cumberland their home, and the closeness of the forest to the community is one reason they are settling in Cumberland. “I’m passionate about Cumberland and about this forest,” Cursons says. “Like so many other people that live here, I walk or hike these forest trails almost every day.”

Nicol agrees that the forest is extremely important to what makes Cumberland special. “Access to the natural environment is essential to our physical, mental, and spiritual health,” he says. “To me, the value of having a great outdoor area within walking distance to the village is immeasurable.”

Aside from the environmental and recreational benefits of the forest, both Nicol and Cursons believe the future of the forest and the future of Cumberland’s economy are directly linked.
“We believe that economic development and environmental sustainability can be complementary,” says Cursons. “There are economic reasons to save these forests because these trails have an economic consequence to Cumberland and the entire Comox Valley. Long term, these forests are worth more to us while they’re standing.”

To Nicol, the forest is what makes Cumberland stand out and what makes its economic future so bright. “Cumberland is such a unique town. It doesn’t look like anywhere else in BC. There’s a unique feel. This has a huge economic value.”

Though the trails surround Cumberland, saving these forest lands is relevant to everyone in the Comox Valley. “The entire Valley uses this forest as their playground,” Nicol says. “This forest doesn’t just belong to the residents of Cumberland—it’s here for everyone who calls this Valley their home.”

The Cumberland Community Forest Society realizes that to reach its goal, it needs assistance from the larger community that makes up the entire Comox Valley. “Thirteen years ago, the forest was saved because the community banded together,” notes Cursons. “If the people of the Comox Valley get behind this campaign, I believe we can do it again.”

For more information on the forest and to help with the campaign visit www.cumberlandforest.com