NANAIMO — Local hikers want access to 867 acres of potential hiking space, and they say they’re perfectly willing to be shot for the access.

The Department of National Defence (DND) owns the land, which it uses for rifle practice. A spokesperson said its “No Civilian Deaths” policy prevents it from opening the range to local hiking enthusiasts.

“I mean, we are literally shooting at things out there,” said DND spokesperson Nathan Poe. “With guns. Big guns. And large-calibre ammunition. Jesus.”

The DND says it has more than 200 days scheduled for live-fire practice this year. Its property borders Westwood Lake Park, Morrell Nature Sanctuary, and Mount Benson Regional Park — all prime hiking space, say the hiking groups.

“Listen, if some of us get shot, that’s a small price to pay for having access to these trails,” said Aaron Burr, founder of the Nanaimo Runners Club. “We have free healthcare for a reason. If one of us gets shot, we go to the hospital, get fixed up, and then keep hiking. I don’t understand the issue here.”

Last week, recently elected Nanaimo MP Paul Manly met with the defence ministry. Unfortunately, he spent the time talking about food security and the Trans-Mountain pipeline with a somewhat confused DND delegation.

More than 1,000 locals are said to be illegally using the trails on a weekly basis. The area has been closed to public access since 1922.

But the DND says it’s not going to happen, owing to the “No Civilian Deaths” policy which has been in place for decades. “That said,” added Poe, “we are collecting a list of names. That’s all I’m going to say about that.”