Crown land in this area was recommended for protection in the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. The park was established in July, 1995. This park contains the first campground built on Vancouver Island since the early 1980s, created in partnership with Forest Renewal BC (FRBC), the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative (CLCFC) and IWA. FRBC funded the project and CLCFC provided labour by hiring displaced forest workers from IWA local 1-80.
Cowichan, from the Coast Salish word “Khowutzun” meaning “land warmed by the sun,” is an area rich in First Nations, European and resource history.
The Cowichan Valley has been home to the Cowichan Tribes from the earliest times. Cowichan is a collective name for a number of villages on eastern Vancouver Island, including Comiaken, Somenos, Koksilah and Quamichan. Today the Cowichan tribes make up the largest band in British Columbia and members of the band own and reside on much of the land surrounding Duncan and the Cowichan River.
The first European settlers to the region arrived in 1862. Agriculture dominated the early colonial years. Mining replaced agriculture as the primary industry as the forested interior regions became more widely traveled, however it was the forest industry that had the greatest influence on development and settlement in the region. Most of the old-growth forest in the area was logged early in the 20th century, and forestry activities continue to this day.
Since the early 1900s the river has served as a transportation corridor to Lake Cowichan for local logging operations. Old spring board stumps and remnants of camps and rail lines testify to the area’s important logging history.
The Cowichan River is internationally known for its highly valuable and productive fish habitat. Species include coho, Chinook and chum salmon, steelhead and rainbow, brown and Cutthroat trout. The park also protects representative Douglas-fir and Western hemlock forest communities and rare wildflowers.
The area is known to provide habitat for many species of birds and wildlife. Small mammals found in the park include shrews, voles, bats and the native red squirrel. Raccoons, mink, martens, and weasels are also common, and river otters and beavers inhabit the river. The native Vancouver Island ermine, a blue-listed species, has also been found in the park. Larger mammals include black bears, which can be seen in the park during salmon spawning, as well as cougars, black-tailed deer, and Roosevelt elk.
The Cowichan Valley sustains thousands of birds of at least 200 different species. Species resident to the park include osprey, hawks, owls, ravens, and crows as well as many species of songbirds. Bald eagles can be seen along the river in late fall and winter.