By Gerry Beltgens Special to the Chronicle
The people behind one of Vancouver Island’s quiet icons of sustainability are fundraising in an attempt to expand and remain sustainable.
The Wildwood Ecoforest is a hidden gem located between Ladysmith and Nanaimo in the Yellow Point area.
In 1938 Merv Wilkinson bought the Wildwood property with the intention of farming the land. After some study he was persuaded to manage the existing forest using a Scandanavian model of ecoforestry and became a frequently cited example of responsible forestry for the environmental movement in the ’90s.
Nearing the end of his life in the early 2000s he chose to put his land in the public domain to keep it from being developed. It was acquired by the Land Conservancy for $1.1 million and The Ecoforestry Institute Society (EIS) was appointed its official forest manager in 2001.
In 2013 the Land Conservancy encountered financial problems and chose to put the property up for sale. Eventually the disposition of the property landed in the BC Supreme Court and the purchase was resolved by a sealed bid process administered by a judge. The EIS won the bid for $800,000 and the land was kept in the public domain.
This time a detailed Ecoforestry Management Plan and Land Trust Deed was put in place and on title. The Land Trust Deed ensures that Wildwood can never be sold to a private interest, it must always be held by a like-minded charitable society and the forest must be managed in a sustainable way based on the ecoforestry principals.
Part of the bid included $115,000 in personal loans from EIS directors and a $450,000 mortgage held by Vancity.
Wildwood is a 77-acre parcel located on the south end of Quennell Lake in Yellow Point. It has been carefully managed for approximately 75 years and even though there has been ongoing logging in the forest there are now more mature trees than when the land was originally purchased by Merv Wilkenson. This beautiful site is filled with trails, massive trees, birds, deer, bear and other native wildlife.
The homestead was seen as an integral part of the educational mandate by the EIS Board and restored as a source of revenue through rental income. The restoration took over a year and included all new plumbing, electrical, water and septic services.
All work was done with minimum impact on the setting and with energy and water conservation in mind. Materials used were salvaged or repurposed where possible and much of the wood came from the forest on the property. The result is a stunning rustic residence with room for meetings and music events. A colony of bats that had taken up residence in the homestead were carefully moved to outdoor “bat condos” and have continued to flourish.
To ensure the sustainability of the ecoforest the EIS is fundraising to buy back six acres of adjacent old growth that were sold years ago. This land borders the main property and is part of the watershed that feeds the protected forest and the lake.