The friendly, watchful faces that have graced park parking lot along Juan de Fuca Strait for nearly two decades won’t be there to greet you next year.
The Juan de Fuca Regional Park Watch Society, the non-profit organization that for 19 years has provided security at parks along Vancouver Island’s south coast, is no more.
Its demise, in part, comes as a result that people don’t carry money any more.
“About half of our funding has always come from the donation boxes we had when we provided security in park parking lots, but people don’t carry cash these days and those donations have gone way down,” said Lavyna Alexander, the operations manager for Park Watch.
“Last year alone, those donations were down more than $20,000.”
In a letter to Sooke council, the organization said it ceased operations and would not be operating in 2020, citing an anticipated funding shortfall as the main cause of the decision to end the service.
And while Park Watch has in the past been the beneficiary of some funding from the District of Sooke, the Capital Regional District, and even ICBC, the donation box monies were critical to the organization’s survival.
“We could see that the situation was not going to improve, so it was time (to stop operations),” Alexander said.
The society has operated a Park Watch Patrol program from May to September focused on preventing theft from vehicles, break-ins and vandalism, while providing information and support to visitors.
Sgt. Clayton Wiebe of the Sooke RCMP said the service will be missed.
“It was great having the extra eyes out there,” Weibe said. “Before Park Watch, hikers would leave their cars and return to find that they’d been the victims of a break-in and theft.”
That history of thefts from cars was the original impetus for creating the organization.
“In 2000, there were 111 car break-ins in our parks. We created Park Watch and the next year that number dropped to 61 and it’s been going down ever since,” Alexander said.
“There has not been a single car break-in when we were on duty.”
She added that there had been a similar experience with thefts from park users as in 2000 there had been 81 such thefts reported.
“The very next year those thefts dropped from 81 to 14, and those happened when we were not on duty in the parks.”
Alexander said Park Watch also evolved to provide more than a security service for park users.
“We offered assistance including tourism information, first response first aid, information about the park being visited and attractions in the local area,” she said. “We were really the ambassadors for the parks, interacting with visitors to provide information … everything they needed to know for their park visit.”
She recalled instances when the Park Watch staff had also helped with getting assistance when visitor’s cars experienced mechanical problems. On other occasions, the staff had ferried visitors to where cell service was available so that those visitors could call for help themselves.