North Okanagan locals come together to clean Sandy Beach. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

The struggle to manage a B.C. beach where dogs, garbage and drugs are a problem

Local First Nation and regional governments develop plans to ensure local hotspot is respected and maintained.

Located in Vernon, B.C., what most locals call Kin Beach is actually two beaches with a long history. 

On one side is Kin Beach, a public beach owned and maintained by the City of Vernon. But cross over a small footbridge and you enter Sandy Beach, which is private land on the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) reserve.  

You might think that a beautiful beach on Okanagan Lake would be a place that people want to go to. Instead, OKIB members say that they avoid the beach, neighbours say there’s constantly loud parties, and the beach is littered with garbage and dog poop.

Figuring out how to manage this has been an ongoing challenge for the band as well as regional governments.

“The problem with Kin Beach is how are we going to police it? How will we have people to go in there and kick people off? And that is something we simply don’t have the resources to do,” says OKIB Chief Byron Louis. 

“You’re not going to have the RCMP… patrolling this 24 hrs a day when they got everything else they have to do on top of that.”

Louis says there needs to be a “creative solution.”

They are currently working with the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) to “sign a long-term agreement that would cover maintenance and the enforcement of dog and loitering bylaw,” says Michael Fotheringham, OKIB manager of policy and strategic initiatives. 

They are also working to educate the public.

“Sandy Beach is of great interest to OKIB both historically and culturally,”  says Fotheringham.

“Educational signage will be placed prominently on the beach so regional residents can learn more about the significance of the space pre-contact. A beach renaming ceremony is in the works and will be announced once things with the COVID-19 pandemic resolve.” 

Mike Fox, the General Manager of Community Services for RDNO, says they look forward to working with OKIB. “All parties want to see the beach maintained,” says Fox. 

“The RDNO receives the tax dollars from those living on IR#6 [a section of the OKIB reserve] and it was felt that they were best to enter into a long-term agreement with,” says Fotheringham.   

Racism, dogs, drugs, parties, and garbage 

How the public uses Sandy Beach has been an issue for OKIB for years.

In part, this is because many people don’t realize it’s private property says Louis. 

“This is private property, it is privately held, and all of us [Okanagan Indian Band Members] are owners out here. And you are basically using it at the benefit of these owners,” says Louis.

“That is a privilege, and that is a privilege that can be cut off at any time.” 

“The public doesn’t always understand all the governance, or differences in governance, as well the complexities,” says Fox of RDNO.

On Facebook, people complain about constant partying and noise at the beach. Another key tension is dog owners bringing their pets to the beach, despite signs showing that no dogs are allowed.

One of the several No Dogs Allowed signs at Sandy Beach. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

A local resident who lives on Lakeshore Drive writes, “the ones that have their dogs there do not always clean up after them…There is a lot of partying. The bonfires are huge at night.”

Louis says it’s mostly non-members who use the area. “Everyone [is] complaining about needles but our people don’t go down there,” he explains. 

Another issue that community members face at the beach is racism, says Louis.

“There are so many people like that out there who will spit in your face and tell you it’s raining,” says Louis. 

There are Facebook comments such as this Vernon man who writes: “Let’s clean up Kin, take it from the Indians. They don’t need the land we gave them more than enough.”

When it comes to misconceptions and racism Louis wants people to ask, ‘Is that really a true statement?’” 

“There’s a lot of good people in the Okanagan, a lot, but for all these other ones just keep your mouth shut,” he says. 

Moving forward 

On May, 19, Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming told Vernon Matters that the city is planning to add a dog park to the west side of Kin Beach in 2021.

“It is believed that this new [dog] park along with the enforcement of dog bylaws on Sandy Beach when the agreement with RDNO takes effect, will greatly reduce the number of dogs on OKIB lands,” says Michael Fotheringham of OKIB. 

While the dog park won’t be ready until next year, RDNO and OKIB hope to have their agreement in place this summer. 

“[Sandy Beach] is used mainly by regional residents so our position to other regional governments was that we needed financial assistance to ensure the safety and good stewardship of the space,” says Fotheringham

Meanwhile, some locals took cleaning up Sandy Beach into their own hands. 

Katie Mather, a North Okanagan resident, who also works as a First Aid trainer at FACTS First Aid, was with her family when she said she was shocked by the condition of the beach. 

“I was shocked, surprised and just a little disheartened at what it looked like and all the trash that’s laying around, so I just thought something needed to be done about it.”

On Saturday, May 23rd, 2020 she organized a clean-up. About 25 people came together and, according to Mather, they did three dump runs, removed about 150 lbs of garbage, five needles, and a pile of cigarette butts.

Garbage, debris, furniture, and smoke butts were what this team of locals cleared away from Sandy Beach during the community clean-up. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

The group was excited, says Mathers, when after a few hours the beach was completely clean. She sent a heartfelt thank you over social media.

“My heart is full, something so small turned into something so big. I made new friends, met people from all over our community and had a blast…From the absolute bottom of my heart thank you!”

Editors Note: A previous version of this story stated that Kin Beach was owned by the City of Vernon and maintained by the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO). In fact, Kin Beach is both owned and maintained by the City of Vernon.