Treasures Above the Tide Line
By Rose Willow
The spectacular beaches in the Parksville, BC area entice strollers and beachcombers with an array of driftwood, rocks, shells, sand, and seaweed. You’re not supposed to remove any of these items, so that others may enjoy the natural environment of the beaches, undisturbed, as well. However, if you find a small glass disk left by a Float Fairy, feel free to take it home.
No, this isn’t a fairytale; these fairies are volunteers who go out early in the morning during winter to hide these unlikely surprises above the high-tide line. The disks are redeemable for handblown glass globes and other decorative items created by area glass artists. In the recent past, you might have found the items themselves. But the program, which began in October, 2016, has proven so popular that organizers have had to substitute token treasures for the real thing.
“We didn’t anticipate the huge response,” says Wendy Sears, social media and communications coordinator for Tidal Treasures, the organization behind the project. “We brought art to the people, and they are excited about it.” According to Sears, lucky searchers started posting their findings on social media, and Tidal Treasures in turn received thousands of hits on their Facebook page, thus attracting yet more treasure seekers.
A non-profit group made possible by cash donations, sponsorships, grants, and volunteers, Tidal Treasures has four primary goals – to attract tourists during the off-season, raise the profile of island glass artisans, increase business for local merchants, and educate the public about beach environments.
It was inspired by Finders Keepers in Lincoln City, Oregon, a program that builds on beach walkers’ long-time fascination with the old glass fishing floats often found washed up on local shores. Finders Keepers began hiding glass globes created by local artists on its 11 km. stretch of beach, as an arts- and tourism-friendly variation. Glass-blower Robert Held discovered the idea while passing through Lincoln City and brought it home to Parksville.
The Oceanside version commenced on four area beaches — Parksville, Rathtrevor, Resort Drive, and Columbia — with artists from throughout Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands supplying their creations at cost. A year-and-a-half later, “Tidal Treasures has had many inquiries about expanding our project,” Held says, “and we’re considering more public beaches on the east coast of Vancouver Island from Victoria up to Campbell River. The structure of the organization is set up, we’ve got two years of experience under our belts, and know where improvements are needed.”
Island artists already report seeing increased interest in their glass creations. “As people find out about this exciting art form, it puts glass art ‘on the brain,'” says Victoria glass artist Sarah Mulligan. Dirk Huysman and Mary Ann Richards of D’Dance Glass on Gabriola Island agree. “Glass-blowing is an expensive art form, and there’s been a decrease in active glass-blowing on Vancouver Island because of this,” says Huysman. “Raising the profile of glass-art has undoubtedly helped expand the market. We’re encouraged; we’ll keep blowing.”
Perhaps inevitably, unintended consequences kicked in. The initial goal to educate the public about beach environments faltered from the start. In their over-eager quest for bounty, some treasure hunters disturbed sensitive ecosystems, disregarded private property, and left behind a trail of garbage.
The Float Fairies diligently attempted to keep the areas unharmed by placing treasures above the tide-line and out of the natural grasses and other vegetation. Signage clearly depicted this, but not everyone got the message. Columbia Beach was especially ill-treated, with people lifting logs and digging on the beach with shovels. Appalled residents complained, and less than a week into the second season, the beach was dropped from the list.
Other seekers — whom Held describes as “glass-holes” — scooped up every last treasure they could find, leaving nothing for others. Not to be deterred, Tidal Treasures began to substitute glass tokens for the actual art objects in March. With this method, hunters need to turn in any disks they discover to claim their glass-art treasure.
As well, the organizers posted a series of rules on their Facebook page for treasure hunters to follow, including “Treasures are not hidden in environmentally sensitive areas such as beach grasses. Please stay out of the grasses!” and “Find more than one…Keep only ONE! Leave something for others to find!”
As to the beaches, new signage has been posted identifying sensitive ecological areas.
If only the float fairies could wave their wands, spread a bit of fairy dust, and make all go well. The continued success of Tidal Treasures will require cooperation from the treasure hunters. Let’s hope that doesn’t turn out to be impossible to find.