A volunteer with A Rocha Canada rakes leaves at the organization’s South Surrey property. The land was gifted to the conservation group last month. Below

Conservation group ‘here for longhaul’

Land donation gives A Rocha Canada a permanent South Surrey home

A local conservation group has found a permanent home after being gifted an 18-acre heritage property in South Surrey last month.

The land and buildings at the 19353 16 Avenue property – valued at $4.1 million – were donated to A Rocha Canada by the Neufeld family, according to David Anderson, director of A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre.

“In the non-profit world, these kinds of gifts come along infrequently,” Anderson said, noting the organization had been working with the Neufelds since 2008 when a representative of the family first approached the organization about utilizing the land.

Prior to last month’s donation, A Rocha – an international conservation group with projects in 19 countries around the world – had been operating out of the property since 2010 on a year-to-year lease agreement with the owners.

The volunteer-driven group has three main areas of focus in South Surrey – conservation science, environmental education and sustainable agriculture – and Anderson said the property donation will open many doors to expanding their current programs.

“Being on title means we’re well established to serve the wider communities around us for decades to come,” Anderson said. “And we’re here for the long haul.”

The property – which Anderson described as “magnificent” – includes three heritage buildings, a portion of the Little Campbell River, garden plots and a “substantial” forested area.

According to a news release from A Rocha Canada, the property was formerly owned by Sam and Greta Brooks, who created a riding estate on the land in 1933. The property was then purchased by Arnold and Elizabeth Neufeld in 1972, when it was being used as a care facility for people with mental illness and disabilities.

Over the past few decades, the family worked to “fulfill a dream” of Arnold’s to have the property utilized by a non-profit that would honour the many years of work that had taken place there.

“One of the things I’ve been struck by is the vision and steadfast commitment of the Neufeld family,” Anderson said “It’s been a lot of work getting to a place where this gift could take place.”

Plans are now in the works to renovate a 1932 barn on the property to turn it into a year-round education centre, where students of all ages will be able to learn about environmental conservation.

A Rocha will be working to raise $450,000 over the next year to go towards that project, Anderson said.

To find out more about the organization’s programs, visit www.arocha.ca

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