Several nonprofit organizations in Fernie have fallen victim to acts of vandalism this spring and summer season.
On the night of June 23, the Fernie Railyard Dog Park had the battery and cables for their riding lawn mower cut and stolen. Aysha Haines, director of the Fernie Pets Society, said that the mower was stored at the dog park overnight since it was being used both in the evening and then again the next morning. The mower was locked up by volunteers at the end of the night and when the morning rolled around, the cables and battery were missing.
“The Rail Yard Dog Park is 100 per cent volunteer and donation supported and developed so when people vandalize or steal things from the park, they are stealing from the people of Fernie,” Haines said about the theft. “They’re not stealing from a company and they’re not stealing from the government or anything like that…it’s their friends and neighbours that they’re stealing from when they do that. That hits our volunteer core really hard and everyone’s really devastated that someone would come and do that.”
As disappointing as the theft was, the community rallied together to support the dog park. Fernie Auto Parts was quick to donate a new mower battery and cables completely free of charge and the Fernie Fox Hotel donated a trail cam so that the group can keep an eye on their equipment in the future.
Even though the dog park was back on track not long after the incident, Haines said the effects of the theft and vandalism were farther reaching.
“It just makes you feel like you’re less safe in your community,” she noted.
Thankfully, the Fernie Railyard Dog Park was able to continue their operations without having to pay for replacement parts. However, if the community hadn’t stepped in to support them, the several hundred dollars it would have cost to replace the parts would have been redirected away from their other community programming.
Another organization being forced to redirect funds and volunteer hours after a bout of vandalism is the Fernie Snowmobile Association (FSA).
On or around May 22, someone dumped a significant amount of yard waste at the FSA’s Coal Creek staging area. Even though signage at the spot clearly indicates that no dumping whatsoever is allowed, several trailers full of waste was deposited. It was then up to FSA volunteers to spend the time and money getting it removed.
Roughly one month later, the FSA was vandalized once again.
“Someone backed a vehicle up and either hit or pulled out a large timber frame signage kiosk recently installed on the Morrissey FSR at the west entrance to the Upper Flathead Access Management Area,” explained Nicole Matei, FSA administrator. “This was a project completed by the Fernie Snowmobile Association on behalf of the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resources Operations and was to house new informational and directional signage for users in the area.”
Matei expressed her deep disappointment in the vandalism, noting that people truly don’t realize how much of our extensive trail system relies on volunteers and nonprofits.
“The disrespect shown by these individuals is disheartening. The time and money required to support these types of recreation infrastructures is certainly at a premium. It can be very difficult to recruit volunteers or improve services when we constantly have to redirect resources backwards,” Matei said.
The Fernie Nordic Society also fell prey to several attempted thefts this spring.
The society used to use battery packs to power their warming hut but after two consecutive years of having the batteries stolen, they recently upgraded to a generator.
The generator itself is wrapped in chains, which are then secured in a concrete pad and finally locked inside of a housing unit. This spring, on two separate occasions, volunteers found the lock on the housing unit broken off in an attempt to steal the generator.
Thankfully, the chains and concrete deterred the vandals from actually taking the generator but the locks on the housing unit have now been replaced twice this year.
Nonprofits have received feedback and advice on how to protect their property in the future but Matei noted that many of the suggestions are simply unrealistic.
“The real solution likely lays in our community and our visitors understanding the financial implications and value of these resources and infrastructure.”