Barb MacDonald, project manager for Healthy Parks for People with Parks Canada, describes Cavendish Grove as a work in progress. She is standing in front of two man-made ponds, once used for pedal boats and canoes at Rainbow Valley, which are going to be transformed into wetlands. Guardian photo by Jim Day
The expansive property once drew happy, hollering children to water slides and a variety of riding attractions.
Today, the former Rainbow Valley family amusement park in Cavendish is a greatly toned down place. The 39-acre property was purchased for $2.7 million in 2005 under Parks Canada’s Healthy Parks for People Project.
Called Cavendish Grove, the area opened in the summer of 2007 as a day-use area as part of Prince Edward Island National Park.
The calmness of the surroundings, says Karen Jans, Parks Canada field unit superintendent for P.E.I., is also the place’s charm.
“This little oasis of quiet in the (National) Park in terms of natural setting for day use, for picnicking and families etc., it has proven to really have quite a bit of cache there,’’ she says.
Still, some in the Cavendish area tourism industry expected more from the site under Parks Canada ownership than what is largely a place to relax, picnic, or tackle more than 12 kilometres of trails for cycling and hiking that offer lovely views of beaches, sand dunes, freshwater ponds and salt marshes.
Mike Forrest, chair of Cavendish Beaches and The Dune Shores Tourism Association, says Parks Canada had plans to make Cavendish Grove “a destination upon itself.’’ He and others feel Parks Canada has fallen short to date.
Other than maintaining the trails, nothing really concrete has been done to the property that would entice tourists, he said.
“So there was promises of infrastructure to make it more than just a green space,’’ says Forrest.
Jans concedes Cavendish Grove could be “used more,’’ adding the area is a work in progress.
For one, Parks Canada is still removing some building infrastructure left over from Rainbow Valley.
“That’s a really expensive undertaking,’’ she says. “We’ve got additional funds for that because there is lead paint and other things that can’t just be disposed easily. They have to go off-Island.’’
Parks Canada is also looking to restore ponds on the property to their “natural kind of flow.’’
Meanwhile, Cavendish Grove, says Jans, continues to develop as a strong birding area.
But efforts to draw people, notably tourists, to the site rather than the fine feathered friends needs more work, some tourism operators in the area feel.
Jans notes some programming in the past at Cavendish Grove was not well attended.
Other initiatives, though, like the Fall Flavours signature culinary event called Picnic in the Park have found a receptive audience. The unique picnic experience highlighting dishes prepared by local chefs and the Culinary Institute of Canada draws more than 200 people each year around this time.
Jans concludes, however, that Cavendish Grove is already a special place that offers a sought-after tranquil environment.
“Cavendish Grove has proven to us that there is a demand and a desire for a day-use area ... a place for families to bring their kids and a quiet place and a place to have special events,’’ she says.
“It’s very important that we do not — and we will not — lose sight of that.’’