Delta Nature Reserve gives the public a peek at Burns Bog

October 14, 2018


Burns Bog Conservation Society's Katie Bianchin (right) leads students from L.A. Matheson Secondary on the annual Shoreline Clean Up in Delta Nature Reserve



Here’s a great fall family walk as featured in our guide book “52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver“.

ACCESS: To reach the Delta Nature Reserve, take the River Road exit at the south end of the Alex Fraser Bridge, turn right on Nordel Court, and park beside Planet Ice at the end of the road. Follow a paved pathway east from the south side of the building that leads beneath a highway overpass and beside Davies Creek to the reserve’s entrance, a 10-minute walk.

Most Vancouverites would never guess that they live beside the largest undeveloped urban landmass in North America.

If the North Shore’s Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve springs to mind, guess again.

Burns Bog, apparently, takes the cake, at least according to information posted on the Corporation of Delta’s Web site.

Perhaps that claim should be further qualified with a notation that the bog, like much of the LSCR, is also a relatively inaccessible piece of urban geography.

Since being acquired by a consortium of four government agencies in 2004, principally Metro Vancouver, the 2,042-hectare wilderness—featuring the largest raised peat bog on the west coast of the Americas—has been kept off-limits to visitors.

Metro Vancouver Parks spokesperson Mitch Sokalski, chair of the Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area scientific advisory panel, related why. “In 2007, our panel identified the highest priority as raising water levels in the bog. Opening the bog to public tours is our lowest priority and probably won’t happen for at least 15 to 20 years.”

Sokalski’s reasoning irks the likes of Delta South independent MLA Vicki Huntington, said that “Nahanni [Northwest Territories] and Gros Morne [Newfoundland] national parks have boardwalks that run through their bogs. There are a lot more visitors there than here. People need to get to the heart of the bog to appreciate and protect it.”

As one of the most outspoken proponents of preserving the bog from development since the 1990s, the former Delta council member knows whereof she speaks.

Actually, a small portion (60 hectares) of Burns Bog—Delta Nature Reserve, located on the northeastern corner of the bog—is open to the public and well warrants a visit, whether to explore on foot or by bike.

Sarah Howie, urban environmental designer with Delta’s engineering department, has been studying the bog’s forested transition zone, formally known as a lagg, or ecotone.

When I contacted her  the doctoral candidate said her research has focused on whether or not the ecotone can be restored.

“One way is looking at other natural bogs in B.C. to compare them with what logging and peat mining have done here. I’m examining the broad landscape—the hydrology, chemistry, and ecology—but not current anthropogenic influences, such as the South Fraser Perimeter Road.”

Although construction of the controversial highway—part of the provincial government’s ambitious Gateway Program intended to link the Delta Container Terminal at Roberts Bank with the new Golden Ears Bridge—is incomplete, its impact on the bog’s delicate hydrology is still squarely on the minds of scientific advisory panel members and visitors to the Delta Nature Reserve alike.

Katie Bianchin, the Burns Bog Conservation Society education development officer, told me that on guided tours she often fields questions about the impact of the new road.

“The bog occupies 40 percent of Delta,” she noted. “A lot of people don’t realize when they cross the Alex Fraser Bridge that the massive green patch they see is Burns Bog.”

Throughout the year, Bianchin introduces school groups—from elementary to university levels and drawn from as far away as the U.K.—to the bog’s unique ecology.

A  graduate of UNBC’s environmental-studies program, the outgoing Bianchin said that leading tours fits perfectly with what she likes to do.

“I grew up in Richmond and remember visiting the bog on a field trip in elementary school. Fall is a great time because the wet season is here and, after dry summer months, visiting the reserve becomes a truly boggy experience again. Mushrooms are popping up and there are still plenty of salal berries to taste.”

Remember to bring your rubber boots, she cautioned.

As soon as you enter the reserve at one of four entrances along a 2.8-kilometre network of boardwalks, the landscape immediately transforms.

No comparable environments in Metro Vancouver spring to mind.

A ground cover of evergreen Labrador tea thickly blankets the spongy forest floor, intermingled with salal bushes heavy with fruit.

The boardwalk rarely follows a straight line for long, as it zigzags between stands of stunted pine.

“This is a globally unique ecosystem,” Bianchin observed during the annual shoreline cleanup earlier in September.

“The bog’s size is the reason most people have heard of it, even if they haven’t actually been here. Our tours are highly interactive. We bounce on the moss to make the trees shake, visit old bear and fox dens, stop at a sunken tractor—a big hit with boys—and touch, smell, taste bog plants.”

Come along and get tuned into the ecotone.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Fort Langley trails run up to the riverbanks

September 1, 2018

A formation of Canada geese passes over Tavistock Point in Brae Island Regional Park in Fort Langley (Louise Christie photo)

Access: The historic village of Fort Langley lies 56 kilometres east of Vancouver. For information on the town’s adjacent Derby Reach, Brae Island, and Glen Valley regional parks, consult the latest edition of our best-selling guide book 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver.

Forged in Fort Langley, yet another link in the chain of greenways between Hope and the Pacific Ocean now extends farther west, almost to the Golden Ears Bridge.

Pioneer trailblazing around Fort Langley has been going on for almost two hundred years.

At the current rate, the pattern shows no sign of slowing.

The forward-thinking “landbanks” planning concept of Metro Vancouver Parks comes into its own in the riverfront town’s Derby Reach Regional Park, site of the original fort built in 1827.

You could say it’s part of a “buy now, play later” scheme.

When reached by phone, Wendy Dadalt, east-area manager for MVP, told us that much of the landscape through which the Derby Reach to 208th Street Trans Canada Trail Connection passes was originally forest cleared by settlers for farmland or timber.

“The S & R Sawmill lands were purchased in 1996 by the GVRD and province as part of the Lower Mainland Nature Reserve. We’ve land-banked them since then until opening the extension in July, which we designed as a drive-through farm,” Dadalt said.

Although much of the 2.8-kilometre route, a western extension of the Township of Langley’s existing 11-kilometre Fort-to-Fort Trail, runs through green pastures, a short stretch of two-lane blacktop, Allard Crescent, leads past the home and barns of the Normand family, proprietors of Craigentinney Farm for 93 years.

The road has always cut through the Normands’ front yard.

According to Dadalt, that’s the way the family patriarch wanted it.

“I questioned Fred [Normand] why the road goes where it does on their property,” she recounted. “He said his dad was asked where to put it and he said, ‘Right through.’ ”

These days, more cyclists and hikers pass by than vehicles along this quiet back road.

The accompanying pathway constitutes part of a larger plan to establish a new route for the Trans Canada Trail that MVP undertook with the Township of Langley and Trails B.C. for the Experience the Fraser initiative.

There’s not a lot of wiggle room between the broad Fraser River and commercial cranberry fields on the south side of Allard Crescent.The Fraser forms the watery northern boundary beside which the Fort-to-Fort Trail winds.

To do a quick inspection, park at the trail’s 208th Street entrance just north of Allard and begin exploring from there.

Start or finish a visit by cresting the Golden Ears Bridge, with its elevated overview of the Fraser and the Golden Ears’ captivating alpine display above Maple Ridge: a must-ride experience.

The bridge’s wide spiral ramp, well separated from vehicle traffic, is a place of calm.

As the trail winds east through groves of black cottonwoods and red cedars, then crosses fallow fields, opportunities to approach the Fraser and appreciate its steady rolling pace appear at strategic places.One is Muench Bar, one of a number of such fishing bars dotted along the Fort-to-Fort Trail that offer much-needed public access along a shoreline otherwise laced with log booms.

The bars provide picnic tables and washrooms; the largest, Edgewater Bar, at the eastern end of the new extension, features seasonal drive-in campsites and a generous-sized off-leash exercise enclosure for dogs.

Sculptures highlighting Experience the Fraser themes, such as First Nations and the environment, are installed along the extension (including a life-sized iron profile of a farmer and cattle where signs caution visitors to respect working farms and keep quiet).

For added effect, a heady whiff of fresh manure permeates the air where the trail skirts a milking parlour.

The challenge when exploring the trails around Fort Langley is when to call it quits.

On a sunny fall day, cycling the Fort-to-Fort Trail may not be enough for some cyclists.

In that case, tack on a ride out to Brae Island Regional Park’s Tavistock Point opposite the village, where a loop trail offers an unexpected thrill guaranteed to get your whoop on.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

At Porteau Cove, geology has cool tales to tell

August 1, 2018

A play spot for everyone from boaters to picnickers, Porteau Cove sits on a 13,000-year-old glacial ridge.

A play spot for everyone from boaters to picnickers, Porteau Cove sits on a 13,000-year-old glacial ridge.

Access: Porteau Cove Provincial Park lies 43 kilometres north of Vancouver on Highway 99. For more information, visit the Government BC’s website or consult the new edition of our 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver (Greystone Books).

Look around Vancouver’s landscape.

Ancient stories are written everywhere on its surface.

You can learn to see the signs with fresh eyes, as well as enjoy some rejuvenating fresh sea air, during a visit to Porteau Cove Provincial Park on Howe Sound north of Horseshoe Bay, one of the destinations featured in the new edition of 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver .

Reading the Earth’s stories is the job of geoscientist Bob Turner of Natural Resources Canada.

On the phone from his Robson Street office, Turner said that, geologically speaking, the most interesting 100 kilometres in Canada lie between Vancouver and Whistler.

“There is more diversity and points of interest than anywhere in the province: landscapes, landforms, waterfalls, glaciers, debris-flow hazards, granite walls—quite an inventory.”

In the mid-1990s, Turner coined the term geoscape, a contraction of geological landscapes.

“Geology is focused on the past,” he said. “It’s a science caught up with invoking imaginary landscapes. Geologists are famous for looking at sandstone formations and seeing rivers. With the Geoscape initiative, we wanted to focus on the landscape today, bring geology home to urban Canada, and tell the stories about where people work and play.”

With this in mind, one of Turner’s early efforts was a 2003 guidebook, Vancouver, City on the Edge: Living With a Dynamic Geological Landscape (Tricouni Press), coauthored with SFU professor John Clague.

When it comes to an easily reached place to play, Porteau Cove fills the bill.

It helps that the diminutive park perched on a shelf of glacial sill—a 13,000-year-old ridge of moraine material where the two-kilometre-thick ice sheet paused—is one of the only places where day-trippers and campers alike can find access to Howe Sound, North America’s southernmost fiord.

Renowned as a hub for underwater diving, the park’s appeal extends just as readily to sailboaters, paddlers, beachcombers, swimmers, picnickers, and those like Turner who simply enjoy contemplating the panorama that plays out between sea level and mountain peaks.

“I want people to take a closer look and dig into what they see when they get there: rub their hands on the polished rock to feel the smoothness of the glacier’s touch and stare up at the ridges and see the remnants of where the glaciers were, sensing the land in a deeper way, in a process I call mental stretching.”

When it comes to stretching your legs along Porteau Cove’s rocky shoreline, sneakers are a better choice than sandals, especially at low tide, when a slippery, shallow outcropping lies exposed.

On a sunny day, the predominantly black pebbles soak up the sun’s rays, which, in turn, warm the slowly rising waters, making for tolerable swimming temperatures.

One of the best stretches of beach in this regard lies tucked in beside the walk-in campsites adjacent to the sheltered cove, where a small settlement once stood in the 1930s.

The cove’s calm waters are a welcome relief for paddlers, who can expect to be bounced around on Howe Sound at a moment’s notice when outflow winds kick up whitecaps.

Porteau Cove anchors a more pivotal location than might appear at first glance.

According to Turner, there are actually three stories on display in this geoscape.

“Porteau Cove is a junction point,” he said. “Stand on the park’s jetty and look towards Squamish. What you see is a true fiord: steep-sided and flooded by the sea. From here west towards Horseshoe Bay, where the embayment breaks up, is a sound. Features such as the rounded shapes of the islands to the craggy, high peaks reflect a landscape sandpapered by ice. Beneath the water is the invisible story of the submarine sill, a shallow, glacier-calving snout of debris that sits stationary offshore, attracting marine life, which, in turn, draws divers.”

To best appreciate Turner’s trilogy, visit on a clear day when landmarks such as Bowyer and Anvil islands are easily identifiable from the shoreline.

Many of the park’s 60 campsites, including 16 walk-in sites, offer panoramic views that stretch from the ocean to the still-glaciated Tantalus Range peaks high above.

Driftwood lines the foreshore, providing secure resting places for kayaks and canoes parked above the tide line, and tent pads find shelter beneath stands of shore pines, Sitka spruce, and western red cedars with bald eagles perched in their crowns.

Although you could launch a boat from the beach, the easiest approach is from twin sloped concrete ramps at the end of B.C. Ferries’ emergency ferry pier, constructed in the 1980s after a devastating debris torrent at Lions Bay blocked traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway for weeks.

Once on the water, stick close to shore, not just for personal safety but also to inspect the scouring effect of ice on the shear-sided walls of the fiord on either side of the pier.

Alternately, on foot, carefully cross the highway and look for the very distinct and extensive glacial polishing and striations—scratches and wavelike grooves—on the granite wall immediately opposite the entrance to the park, one of the few places where the original wall of the fiord is still preserved.

If you can indulge in a little mental stretching by imagining a frozen river of glacial ice slowly flowing past you into the Strait of Georgia basin, Turner will have done his job.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

Chilliwack lakes call out for summer hikers

June 16, 2018


Lindeman Lake sparkles below the peaks of the North Cascades in Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

Here’s the perfect summer outing, a perennial favourite among destinations detailed in our best-selling guide “52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver”

Access: Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park lies 150 kilometres southeast of Vancouver. Travel east along Highway 1 to the Chilliwack Lake–Cultus Lake exit (number 104), then head southeast on No. 3 Road through the community of Yarrow. Go east along Vedder Mountain Road. Just over the Vedder Bridge, turn south (right) onto Chilliwack Lake Road at a well-marked intersection. Drive 42 kilometres to the park. It’s an easy two-hour drive from Vancouver. Lindeman Lake is 3.4 kilometres return; Greendrop Lake is 10.4 kilometres return. Details are at

There’s no better time to visit the south Fraser Valley than right now.

Lush fields surround roadside stands stocked with freshly-picked produce.

Just as prized are picnicking and angling sites sprinkled along the Chilliwack River Valley, as well as shaded trails on the slopes above the river’s headwaters in Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park.

While river access comes easily at numerous roadside pullouts, you’ll need to expend more energy to reap the benefits offered by hiking routes such as the popular Lindeman–Greendrop Lakes Trail.

One of the rewards will be an enhanced appetite for those juicy niblets; another prize will be the entrancing sight of sunlight sparkling on the surface of the two lakes towered over by craggy North Cascades peaks.

Beside the trail’s outset, lively Post Creek froths its way down the mountainside from high above, carrying a gentle breeze that helps keep biting insects at bay.

Columns of old-growth Douglas fir line the way.

In less than an hour, you’ll find yourself beside Lindeman, possibly the most beautiful subalpine lake on offer in the Lower Mainland.

Clear green at the shoreline, its chilly waters deepen from a lighter blue to indigo when viewed from the trail.

If you plan to journey on to Greendrop, save a swim here for the return journey.

Picking your way around Lindeman’s north side requires some tricky boulder hopping.

Not only will shoes with good ankle support spare you the misfortune of twisting or wedging a foot in the scree, they’ll also afford you the benefit of improving your balancing skills.

Thankfully, staircases and boardwalks assist hikers around the steepest section of the trail by this lake.

From there, the well-marked trail to Greendrop passes knee-high wild gooseberry bushes and delicate mountain orchids as it wends through a narrow forested valley interspersed with open sections of scree.

With the exception of the occasional whirring hummingbird, the air is thick with a rich stillness rarely experienced in everyday life.

Orange metal markers affixed to tree trunks helpfully guide the way.

While Lindeman Lake has a lock on looks, Greendrop’s special feature is the spectacular size of the western red cedar grove that surmounts its waterfront.

Although a trail marker beside Greendrop’s wilderness campsite indicates that the Centennial Trail leads east from there into the Skagit Valley, attempts to find the faded route will prove futile for all but the hardiest of bushwhackers.

Chew on that as you dig into some fresh corn.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

South Surrey’s Redwood Park is a forested enclave of calm

May 1, 2018


Redwood Park contains a replica of a tree house where the founders of the park once lived.

Tiny Redwood Park in Surrey rates high on the list of undiscovered gems in our best-selling 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver. Here’s why, including an update on its innovative and universally-accessible  children’s playground.

ACCESS: Redwood Park lies 35 kilometres south of Vancouver. Follow Highway 99 south to the King George Highway (Exit 10) in Surrey. Go south on King George to 16th Avenue, east to 176th Street, then north to 20th Avenue and east one block to the park’s main entrance. Alternatively, enter at the trailhead and small parking area on the north side of 16th Avenue just east of 177th Street.

To reserve the tree house, contact the Surrey parks and recreation office, 604-501-5050604-501-5050.


A palpable peace hangs in the air.

With spring now in full swing, it’s time to reflect on the natural bounty that surrounds Metro Vancouver.

One such place to experience these offerings lies in South Surrey.

Even long-time residents  are still amazed to discover hidden corners of this semirural landscape.

Visitors will heartily agree with a quotation from Robert Louis Stevenson on one of the park’s interpretive markers.

“It’s not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim on men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit,” declared the Scottish novelist and travel writer.

A century ago, twin brothers David and Peter Brown were given adjacent acreages by their father on the logged hillside above Hazelmere Valley, where they dwelled until 1958.

Over the years, the twins set about reforesting the slopes with 32 species of trees native to North America, Europe, and Asia.

Among the most successful was the giant sequoia, or coast redwood, from which the park takes its name.

Other evergreens, such as incense and blue Atlas cedars, also thrived and attained sizable proportions.

Spreading chestnuts, maples, and elms border the fields cultivated by Hazelmere Organics.

One of Redwood Park’s unique attractions is a play space custom-designed for children with mobility challenges.

Surrey parks department operations manager Tim Neufeld told us that the focus on Redwood Park has been to meet universal access standards.

“We’ve improved the trails with better grades and made accessible picnic shelters; we’re slowly evolving the park into a destination for those with special needs,” he said.

The Browns probably would have approved of the inventive playground as much as the replica of a tree house where they once lived and which Surrey rebuilt in the 1980s for use by school groups, Boy Scouts, and Girl Guides.

The bachelor brothers were driven to build a cabin in the boughs of a Douglas fir after fire destroyed two previous dwellings.

Neufeld said the cabin could see better utilization, and plans are underway to use it to stage interpretive programs highlighting the park’s heritage and arboretum.
Original Article
Text CR Louise Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Step Down to Surrey Beach

April 14, 2018

Here’s one of the two new destinations featured in the latest edition of our best-selling “52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver.”

Access: 1,001 Steps Park lies south of Vancouver in Surrey’s Ocean Park neighbourhood. Travel south on Highway 99 to Exit 10, then west toward Crescent Beach on Crescent Road, then follow 128th Street south to Kwomais Point Park, located at its intersection with Marine Drive. Park there and walk north three blocks along 126A Street to 15A Avenue and 1,001 Steps Park’s trailhead. For information on both 1,001 Steps Park and the Christopherson Steps, visit the City of Surrey website.

Just like a palindrome, 1,001 Steps Park offers the same experience whether approached from the top down or the bottom up.

With salmonberry bushes in pink bloom, early spring is the best time to appreciate this Surrey pocket park before leaves curtain the steep hillside.

Right now, there’s nothing hidden about the views that stretch west across Boundary Bay to Point Roberts’s green stronghold, where sandstone cliffs mimic the slopes that fall away below Surrey’s Ocean Park neighbourhood.

The sound of a rhythmic cadence of waves rises through the skinny-limbed alder forest, summoning one foot to follow the other.

When reached by phone at his office, Surrey manager of parks Owen Croy fondly recalled his childhood days exploring the 1,001 Steps on visits to his grandparents’ home.

“In the 1950s, neighbours developed the first set of earthen-and-board steps,” he told me.

“We used to clamber up and down on them, shouting: ‘There’s one thousand and one steps!’ As if we could count that high.”

Croy said that in the 1990s, Surrey built the current staircase as well as a companion set (farther north, toward Crescent Beach) that was once also referred to as “1,001” but is now called the Christopherson Steps.

“Although small in size, we treat Christopherson like a park too, since both approaches get people to the wild part of Boundary Bay, a place that doesn’t actually fall under our jurisdiction but is, in fact, provincial land.”

According to Croy, the stretch of coastline between White Rock and Crescent Beach boasts the sunniest, warmest microclimate in Metro Vancouver.

“A visit to Crescent Beach offers everyone the chance to step back in time to a beach community that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the Lower Mainland.”

Croy also offered these words of advice: “As the foreshore area is considered part of the Pacific Flyway, where millions of birds pass through each year, we ask dog owners to keep their pets on leash so as not to harass the wildlife.”

One glance at the rock-and-boulder-strewn portion of the shoreline around the steps is enough to persuade most owners to look elsewhere for a place to exercise their pets, such as a new stretch of greenway that extends between Surrey’s recently acquired Kwomais Point Park and the top of 1,001 Steps Park.

Another suggestion for both two- and four-footed walkers is the quiet back street that leads several blocks east of Kwomais Point along 13th Avenue.

Watch for another staircase, one that traces an up-and-down, 168-step route along the bluff above Semiahmoo Bay, where a viewing platform offers a lookout across into Washington state.

A harmonious sense of convergence awaits those who follow the freshly surfaced pathway from the bottom of the 1,001 Steps (in truth, there are only 228 treads) to the beach via a small underpass beneath the railway tracks.

Offshore, ocean currents wash through three straits—Haro, Georgia, and Juan de Fuca—and two bays, Boundary and Semiahmoo.

A wealth of marine life calls the intertidal zone home.

Time a visit to coincide with low tide, then gently tip up a smallish stone or two at water’s edge to uncover hidden marvels.

During a visit in early April, I witnessed families whooping with excitement at the discovery of ribbon worms as much as a metre in length, eel-like black pricklebacks, and purple shore crabs.

A more exotic menagerie is hard to imagine.

Be absolutely sure to merely watch—not handle—the creatures, and gingerly replace those few rocks in their original position, as the exposed life depends on them for shelter from the elements and predators.

An added advantage of exploring when tides are low comes into play with extra room to walk around the southern headland, Kwomais Point (a half-hour walk from the steps), where winter storms have all but eroded the shoreline.

Although it may be tempting to climb up from the beach and walk a short distance along the tracks, be warned that both freight and passenger trains roll through unannounced.

Instead, pick your way with downcast eyes on the uneven rocks that abut the railway bed, a challenge that would test the balancing skills of a gymnast. Remember to pause occasionally to look around.

On the Boundary Bay side, a parade of peaks marches from Mount Elphinstone above Gibsons Landing on the Sunshine Coast and blends seamlessly with Black Mountain and Hollyburn Ridge on the North Shore.

Step around the point to the Semiahmoo Bay side for one of the most impressive shoreline panoramas in Cascadia, one that rises from sea level to Mount Baker’s 3,286-metre summit accompanied by a succession of snowcapped North Cascades peaks.

Sweep your gaze southwest to the Olympic Mountains, where Hurricane Ridge presents a glaciated wall, then northwest to the chain of Vancouver Island mountains that leads off toward the distant Comox Glacier.

Wow, to the 10th power.

When it comes to stepping out in this neck of Surrey, it’s strictly a numbers game.

Spring break in a day: here are four fun ways

March 1, 2018


Nobody can complain about the hills on Richmond’s Middle Arm Trail, because flat is where it’s at.

Nothing says “March” like the advent of spring school break.

When you’re looking to free yourself from winter’s bonds, there’s no need to venture far from home in Metro Vancouver.

Vernal greenery and good times are on welcome display at every turn.

With those rewards foremost in mind, here are a quartet of day trip tips for spring-break outings chosen from our all-ages, all-activities, all-seasons guide 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver.

First up: South Surrey’s Redwood Park, replete with some of the best natural hide-and-seek stashes around.

A grove of towering coast redwoods dominates the ridge above historic North Bluff Road, or 16th Avenue, in the Hazelmere Valley.

A century old, the park’s anchor tenants, members of the world’s tallest tree species, still have a ways to go before they match their record-holding cousins in Northern California, the tallest of which top out at more than 100 metres.

No matter.

The redwoods’ drooping skirts encircle them and brush against each other like a troupe of Sufi dancers.

As French writer Colette observed, children only value that which can be hidden. In this evergreen realm, secret alcoves abound.

And not just on the ground.

Look up and you’ll spy a bachelor pad–sized tree house, a replica of the one inhabited for decades by the park’s former owners, brothers David and Peter Brown.

During their lifetimes, the twins planted redwoods, plus 32 additional species, on their property.

When the City of Surrey turned the Browns’ arboretum into parkland, efforts were made to attract families, including expanding a kids’ playground.

That’s where we met Abbotsford photographer Jeff Andrews with four of his 10 children. “Since my wife, Gisela, gave birth to triplets,” he said, “we take things day to day on spring break.”

If you live on an island ringed with dikes, it’s easy to be lured onto a bike and to simply start rolling along.

Next up: Richmond’s portion of Lulu Island boasts a sinuous 47.5-kilometre network of sea-level pathways.

Some stretches touch historic landmarks, such as London Farm in Steveston, where the first Europeans began the dike-building effort.

Other sections, like Middle Arm Trail, pass beside Richmond’s Olympic speed-skating oval, with its massive exterior panelling designed by Musqueam artist Susan Point.

Accenting a bike ride here are numerous other public-art installations inspired by the Fraser River’s proximity.

Watch for a waterfall through which a metallic school of salmon swims.

The best place to stage a visit is Richmond River Park beside the No. 2 Road Bridge, or one of the numerous pullouts along River Road between the Moray Bridge and Terra Nova Park.

Thirdly,Rocky Point Park.

Should your day trip more closely resemble a class outing in size, follow the breeze to Port Moody’s Rocky Point Park.

Without doubt, this multi-activity playground will satisfy the fussiest of little rippers.

Budget an hour or more to cycle, stroll, in-line–skate, skateboard—whatever—around the eastern corner of Vancouver’s inner harbour.

Along the way, poke your head in at the Noons Creek Hatchery to see how the salmon fry are fattening up prior to their release.

Just uphill from the hatchery lies a mellow-flowing skateboard park, always worth a look in, as are the twin PoMo Rotary Bike Trials and Sk8 parks at Rocky Point’s downtown entrance on Murray Street.

Seek out Pajo’s fish-and-chips stand inside the park. Grab some hot fries, strike out for the end of the long pier that out into Port Moody Arm, and let spring breezes freshen your worldview.

Finally, if you go out in the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise, or at least a little magic.

If you go out in Pacific Spirit Regional Park on  Saturday night, March 24, be prepared for something even bigger.

What started as a Boy Scouts night hike has morphed into something called Night Quest.

These days, Metro Vancouver Parks invites spring breakers to experience the heavily wooded forest on Vancouver’s West Side for themselves.

In the safety of hundreds of fellow questers, of course.

Night Quest began when park volunteer and Scout leader Ed O’Brian came up with the idea of observing the changes that happen in the forest as sundown blends into twilight and night eventually envelops all.

Each year, O’Brian dons a glittering, leafy-green robe as he becomes the embodiment of Pacific Spirit Park itself.

From the park’s 16th Avenue entrance just west of Blanca, Night Questers follow a two-kilometre, lantern-lit trail.

Musicians line the route as shadowy forms and glistening eyes peer out on all sides.

The heady scent of cedars blended with the rich loamy aroma of the forest floor lends an air of calm that you could never anticipate.

Fleece up to avoid getting chilled.

Gather around a campfire for entertainment as drumming fills the night.

Bring flashlights or lanterns, and allow at least one hour to complete the quest.

As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared—and come early.

One of the best things about Night Quest is that it’s free, and you don’t need to register.

Just show up.

And remember to duck out of the way of the flying squirrels, of course.

Details on regional park spring-break events can be found on Metro Vancouver’s Web site.

Text CR Jack Christie

Photo CR Louise Christie

Original Article

Striding on snowshoes

January 13, 2018


Mount Seymour's Rowan Gloag makes sure the Discovery Trails system is clearly marked and easy for beginners to follow in all conditions.

ACCESS: Check out the chapters on Cypress and Mt Seymour in our guide book, 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver. Detailed snowshoe-trail maps as well as information on shuttle-bus service to Mount Seymour from both Lonsdale Quay and Parkgate Mall are posted at

Be resolute.

Be very resolute.

Put one foot in front of the other and stride into 2018 on snowshoes.

According to personal trainer Michelle Ricketts, co-owner of Storm Fitness in North Vancouver, even after centuries of popularity in Canada, snowshoeing is a sport that has yet to reach its full potential.

“When it comes to fitness, snowshoeing has so many things going for it: you get a cardiovascular workout; you sweat a lot while breathing fresh air; and it strengthens muscles, especially in the legs.”

Not surprisingly, Ricketts typically sees a surge of interest in snowshoeing at this time of year, starting in December and lasting well into February.

“It’s the perfect mix between exercise, great scenery, and friendships. My client profile is mostly active women in the 25-to-35 age range who are already extremely fit. That being said, snowshoeing is not just for those who are already fit, but it’s a good way for anyone to get moving. My clients like it because it’s not something they would do on their own.”

The 37-year old Ricketts, who earned an outdoor-recreation diploma from Capilano University, knows whereof she speaks.

“I’ve been snowshoeing since Brownies, when we used to do snowshoe tours on the North Shore. My motto is ‘get living’. Why just exist when you can live? I encourage everyone to get outside and get living.”

When it comes her favourite places to be active, Ricketts gravitates to trails in either of the North Shore’s two provincial parks: Cypress in West Vancouver and Mount Seymour in North Vancouver.

“The fact that trails are open to the public is the big attraction of provincial parks. You’ll find there’s a good mix of challenges in both Cypress and Seymour without having to buy a pass.”

During a recent visit, the Christies took the opportunity to weigh the advantages of exploring both the Mount Seymour Provincial Park trails and Mount Seymour Resort’s adjacent Discovery Trails network.

Both options lie within steps of a common parking lot and are accessible by either car or shuttle bus.

From twin trail heads at 1,020 metres—the highest base elevation on the North Shore—the privately run, 10-kilometre snowshoe trails spread downhill through the forested lower bowl around Goldie Lake, and an equally lengthy and more challenging series of public trails begins at the B.C. Parks kiosk adjacent the Mystery Chairlift and ascend toward either First Lake or Mount Seymour’s summit.

More than a decade ago, when lightweight aluminum designs first sparked a renaissance in snowshoeing, Mount Seymour Resorts created the Discovery Trails system to complement the long-established public pistes originally tramped out by members of the Alpine Club of Canada in the 1920s.

When tracked down while clearing snow from the expert-rated Cougar’s Pass route, the resort’s trail-maintenance supervisor, Rowan Gloag, recommended that neophytes and families with young children should check out the Discovery Trails first before venturing farther afield.

“Given the atrocious weather the North Shore can experience, a lot of what my crew and I do is staking poles so that trails are well marked. We want to make our trails extremely comfortable for beginners and intermediates to come out no matter what the weather. The fluorescent-coloured poles are installed specifically for cloudy days.”

As Gloag spoke, shafts of sunshine pierced through groves of snow-caked evergreens.

With white drifts mounded on all sides, strategically placed poles helpfully outlined the intermediate single-track loop trail around Goldie Lake that led away from the much broader Ole’s Pass trail, one of six introductory routes.

Metal teeth, or crampons, mounted on the undersides of the rubber-decked snowshoes made easy work of both ascending and descending the otherwise slippery pathways.

These are the same routes visited by grade-school students on field trips conducted here throughout the winter.

“Over the past decade, our business has grown from running educational programs to a broader range of recreational trips,” Gloag observed. “The sport is steadily catching on. I’m seeing a lot more people showing up with their own equipment.”

After a snowfall, if you choose to head off on the B.C. Parks routes, be prepared to break trail through the old-growth forest that cloaks the steep-sided slopes of Mount Seymour.

Other than distance markers placed at significant intersections, signage on these trails primarily consists of red metal markers affixed high on the trunks of mountain hemlocks.

Spotting them is not difficult.

By the time most trekkers set out on the First Lake Loop Trail, which leads to several viewpoints of the city below, chances are good that a path will already have been packed down.

If you are exploring these trails for the first time, a clearly visible track is crucial.

The terrain proves particularly challenging on the roly-poly approach to First Lake, though less so on the more straightforward ascent on the seven-kilometre Mount Seymour Trail.

No matter which trails you choose to explore, the common experience of a snowshoe workout is similar: the crunch of snow underfoot abetted by the ambient sound of streams gurgling down into the ponds and lakes that dot the mountainside.

Why wait?

Now is the perfect time to get living.

Snowcats near Whistler give more powder to the people

December 2, 2017

Text CR Jack Christie

Photo CR Louise Christie

Imagine discovering a dream you never knew you had.

That’s how Ken Achenbach describes owning a backcountry snowcat operation near Whistler.

A pioneer at heart, Achenbach—who helped invent the twin-tip snowboard, which revolutionized the fledgling sport in the mid 1980s—bought into Powder Mountain Catskiing and Catboarding over ten years ago and  took centre stage with the company in 2008.

Not that running a business in Whistler is anything new to the forward-thinking entrepreneur, who opened the resort’s first snowboard shop in 1988 and still runs the original snowboard summer camp, the Camp of Champs, on Blackcomb Glacier.

On the phone from Powder Mountain’s day lodge, Achenbach said that the opportunity to run a snowcat business was too good to resist.

“How can you say no to an area 15 minutes from your home that gets twice as much snow as Whistler Blackcomb?”

In fact, on Achenbach’s  location on the ideal slopes of five adjacent peaks—including Tricouni Peak, Mount Brew, and Cypress Peak—storms blasting in off the Pacific drop significantly more precipitation than further inland.

Moving through that much white stuff requires legs of steel or a whole lot of horsepower.

Winter travel has spawned innovations from dogsleds to snowmobiles, and nowhere more than in the True North.

It started in the 1940s with Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s first B12s; Allan Drury took things further in 1975 when he brought Caterpillars to the Selkirk Wilderness Skiing lodge in the West Kootenays, the world’s first snowcat-skiing operation.

Drury’s larger-than-life persona is reflected in the passion Achenbach and his operations partner, snowboard maestro Don Schwartz, have brought to their venture.

It didn’t take long for the partners to spread the powder stoke among old friends, such as Jake Burton and Tony Hawk.

In January, 2008, with an elite international roster of snowboarders, skateboarders, and surfers, Burton and Hawk met up to shoot backcountry scenes with Powder Mountain for the action-sports feature film, Life as a Movie, directed by Taylor Steele.

As Achenbach explained, “Taylor changed the face of surf movies. His idea this time was to gather top riders from the three different board worlds and shoot them experiencing life from the other side of the mirror. I had big-wave surfers from Hawaii trying to manage armpit-deep powder asking me, ‘How do you ride this?’ ”

One of the charms of exploring the backcountry by snowcat rather than helicopter is the sense of camaraderie fostered by riding with a dozen other powder hounds in a heated cab mounted atop a PistenBully snow groomer.

The experience is less like the aerial assault of a mountain and more like catching your breath on a chair lift with friends while comparing notes on the previous run.

Just over the Pemberton Icefield north of Whistler lies the Hurley Pass, far enough inland for the powder snow that falls there on the South Chilcotin peaks to be freeze-dried by arctic outflow winds.

Those gusts may rattle a few windows of Backcountry Snowcats’ 10-person lodge at the top of the pass.

Still, that’s a small price to pay for the powder that mounds up in deep drifts and the clear skies that invariably follow winter storm systems.

Half of the fun of getting to the lodge is the snowmobile ride from owners Reg and Kathy Milne’s base in Pemberton Meadows.

Reg cut his teeth grooming snowmobile trails, servicing microwave transmitter towers, and coordinating snowcat operations for film crews.

The Milnes started their business in 2006 after working for almost two decades on obtaining a backcountry tenure permit from the provincial government.

“There were many years when we thought it would never come,” Reg said when reached by phone in Pemberton. “But we knew that with the rising demand in the marketplace for untracked powder terrain we’d succeed, especially with snowboarders who are looking for a surf experience.”

Snowcats offer a mid-range option for backcountry exploration, positioned between lift-serviced resorts and pricier helicopter adventures.

A typical snowcat day is $549, whether you head off on a day trip with Powder Mountain (1-877-793-73491-877-793-7349; ) or overnight with Backcountry Snowcats (1-604-932-21661-604-932-2166 or 1-888-246-11111-888-246-1111; ).

Some of the best conditions of the season occur between now and the end of April.

For a comprehensive listing of snowcat and helicopter ski and snowboard companies in B.C., visit

West Vancouver’s Whyte Lake Trail welcomes all hikers

November 1, 2017


Brian Murfitt's dog Kali leads the way along a West Vancouver trai.

Even during this season of occasional snowfalls, hiking and dog-walking trails on the North Shore maintain a magical charm, none more alluring than in West Vancouver’s upper lands.

ACCESS: Take Exit 4 from the Upper Levels Highway and follow Westport Road a short distance west to the trail-head parking lot. For a detailed map, as well as dog-walking regulations in West Vancouver, visit

In the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, highway construction around Horseshoe Bay left noticeable changes in West Vancouver.

Foremost in many minds was the destruction of an ecologically sensitive area at the foot of Black Mountain to make way for the bypass connection toward Squamish and Whistler.

One puzzling aftereffect of the reconfigurations was the sudden appearance of vehicles—now regularly parked—along the south side of the Upper Levels Highway near Nelson Creek.

In a quest to unravel the mystery, we recently enlisted the aid of a local resident, architect Brian Murfitt, who frequently explores trails on the North Shore’s upper lands with his dogs.

Thanks to directions from Murfitt, it turned out that the cars tucked into the modestly sized, treed space belong to visitors bent on exploring an extensive section of the Trans Canada Trail with links to both the Baden-Powell Trail and West Vancouver’s Whyte Lake Trail.

A portion of funds earmarked from the Sea to Sky Highway project financed the hiking trail.

Despite Whyte Lake Trail’s popularity, as attested to by the numerous cars in evidence on a weekday morning, many residents view the legacy as a sop for the obliterated land, a decision that at the time drew vigorous opposition from citizens.

How does the trail stack up?

Despite the creation of 300 metres of boardwalk, a wooden bridge, strategically placed staircases, an elevated A-frame outhouse, and a floating dock on the shore of Whyte Lake, Murfitt felt that portions of the rock-and-roots trail left much to be desired.

“During rainy season, the drainage is awful,” he said. “The puddles get so large, I stick to the Trans Canada Trail, which is really a shame, since Whyte Lake is otherwise a lovely, moody part of the forest, especially at this time of year.”

In silent assent, spokes of sunlight burned through a stand of unlogged Douglas-fir forest, illuminating the ground cover of sword ferns.

The air rang with splashing sounds as Whyte Creek channelled a course downhill through a narrow cleft on its way to merge with the even more boisterous Nelson Creek.

Another trait of the trail that Murfitt found puzzling was its designation as an on-leash dog zone.

“This is makes no sense to anyone, especially as the Trans Canada and the Baden-Powell trails are both off-leash.”

On the day we visited, though, no one on the single-track Whyte Lake Trail made any attempt to harness their pets.

In order to discover the rationale behind the ruling, we contacted the municipality of West Vancouver’s senior manager for parks, Andrew Banks.

“When we were constructing the Whyte Lake Trail, we decided that because this is an environmentally sensitive zone, people access was okay but dogs had to be on-leash. In general, when we build a trail—and there are now over 100 kilometres of trails in West Vancouver—the default is on-leash, much like the speed limit for cars is 50 kilometres per hour unless otherwise posted. Right now, we’re focusing on Ambleside and the waterfront area, where we’re installing signs in response to requests for clarification from dog owners. At the moment, there’s not a defined policy for every trail on the upper lands.”

The North Shore upper lands are honeycombed with trails.

When well marked, they’re a godsend to hikers, whether in the company of canines or not.

Even on the dampest days, dense canopies of evergreens capture the majority of raindrops or snowflakes.

Few routes are level.

Count on experiencing an elevated metabolism and dopamine count as soon as you set out.

Dress appropriately, hike with two-footed companions, and you’ll enjoy one of the most exhilarating year-round outdoor experiences on offer in any urban setting.

One noticeable change in West Vancouver since the creation of the Whyte Lake Trail and expansion of the Trans Canada Trail has been much improved signage, particularly at intersections with the far older Baden-Powell Trail, a 48-kilometre route that links Horseshoe Bay with North Vancouver’s Deep Cove at the foot of Mount Seymour.

Whether you opt to wear flip-flops, waterproof boots, or a happy medium, Whyte Lake makes a satisfying two-hour, round-trip trek via the broad Trans Canada Trail, which offers a welcome to all comers.

For decades, bean-shaped Whyte Lake lay within the municipal watershed and remained off-limits.

That’s no longer the case.

From the parking-lot trail head, the approach passes beneath the Upper Levels Highway’s concrete struts, then climbs a slope near the old Inter-Provincial Bridge—a slice of the past well worth a look—which curves over Nelson Creek.

Carry on uphill to the first of several route choices at the entrance to Nelson Canyon Park.

The well-marked turnoff to Whyte Lake occurs about one kilometre east along the Trans Canada Trail.

Alternatively, hikers and off-leash dog walkers could just as easily follow a more level portion of the TCT west past Nelson Creek and connect with the two-kilometre Seaview Walk Trail in Horseshoe Bay.

Take your pick.

No matter which direction you choose, unleash your curiosity and off you go.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

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