Plans for an accessible playground for all ages in Fuller Lake Park that will be paid for by a newly created non-profit society has been given the green light by North Cowichan’s council to proceed.
The Anya’s Journey Foundation approached the municipality with an offer to fundraise $500,000 for the new playground through a variety of means, and the society is already working with Vancouver Canucks’ alumni on a large fundraising event, likely to be held in March.
Local businessman Bruce Findlay, one of the founders of the society, said in a letter to North Cowichan that it was named for his daughter Anya, who was diagnosed in 2020 with Lamb-Shaffer Syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disorder.
“Anya’s joy in life is at the playground and she absolutely loves swings, slides and anything else she can spin on or hang off of,” he said.
“She recently turned 13, and we are finding that most of the playgrounds in the Cowichan Valley may not meet her needs as she continues to grow.”
Findlay said the purpose of the society is also to fund research into Lamb-Shaffer Syndrome as well as to fund the all-ages inclusive playground.
He said he believes the sort of playground that will be built, one that is geared towards both children and adults with special needs, could become a destination location with people traveling from all over Vancouver Island to access it.
Findlay said that, as well as working with the Vancouver Canucks on the fundraising event in March, the society is also creating products to fundraise on its website, which is still in the design stage.
“Provided we can receive a positive response from [North Cowichan], we will reach out to the Canucks Autism Network and other high-profile societies and non-profit philanthropies to assist us in the goal of raising all the funds necessary,” he said.
“We have already also been in touch with an inclusive playground manufacturer and fundraising operation in St. Louis, but we are also looking at the potential of a Canadian operation to build out the playground.”
In a report, North Cowichan’s director of parks and recreation Don Stewart recommended council approve the project and said the development of a fully accessible, all-ages playground would strongly benefit Fuller Lake Park and provide the gap in play opportunities currently missing in the northern part of the municipality.
He said the $500,000 funding proposed by the society would allow for the purchase, development and installation of the playground under the direction of the parks department and representatives from the society.
The playground will be located where the existing beach volleyball court currently is.
“North Cowichan’s investment in this project is providing the land for the playground and the staff to oversee the project,” Stewart said.
“Staff would also relocate the existing beach volleyball court in advance of the accessible playground as part of this process. The cost for relocating the volleyball court would be contained within the existing operational budget.”
Council unanimously approved the playground proposal at its meeting on Feb. 2.
Mayor Al Siebring said he had met with Findlay and Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor on the issue recently.
“[Findlay] is working hard on this and is very committed to the project,” he said.
“We need to so some work on that area, so all this comes together very well. I think this is a great project and I thank Mr. Findlay for stepping forward.”