Earth Day tours at Qualicum Beach’s Hamilton Marsh

Hamilton Marsh, near Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Hamilton Marsh

Hamilton Marsh is a pristine bit of heaven that offers much to those looking for a brief respite from civilization. The marsh is located just a few minutes from Qualicum Beach and is a great place to appreciate the wonders of the natural world at any time of year.

Children at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, british Columbia

Earth Day activities at Hamilton Marsh encourage children to discover the flora and fauna of the area

The marsh is the largest between Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Cumberland, and, of 32 area wetlands studied, is the most prolific brood marsh for waterfowl breeding. This beautiful site is 3 kilometres long (almost two miles) and ½ kilometre wide. Miles of forested trails skirt its perimeter, and the beautiful mountain and water views attract outdoors enthusiasts from young to old.

Visitors on the dock at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Visitors can venture out on the dock to take in the marsh

Our first visit was during an Earth Day tour hosted by the Friends of French Creek Conservation Society. The event attracted nature lovers of all ages and offered an intriguing glimpse into the thousands of creatures that inhabit the marsh and the surrounding woodlands – many of them endangered species. This occasion was an especially engaging one for youngsters, who were encouraged to dip nets into the marsh and deposit their found ‘treasures’ into water-filled white tubs where they could easily see and identify the flora and fauna that they had scooped up.

Salmonberry at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancoouver Island, British Columbia

There is much simple natural beauty to be discovered at the marsh

Fungii at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWhite salmonberry bloom at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaYou don’t, however, have to be an avid naturalist in order to enjoy Hamilton Marsh, and you certainly don’t require guides and interpretive tours to take pleasure in the serene beauty of the place. While it is well-used and appreciated by local residents it is far from crowded. After parking your vehicle in the small area provided you can meander along any number of trails or head straight for the small floating dock that extends out into the marsh. Spend some time out there enjoying the splendid scenery and wildlife activity and any cares you may have brought with you will evaporate. Depending on the time of year that you visit you may enjoy watching anything from wood ducks to trumpeter swans, black bears to elk.

Trail at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The trails are on a ‘use at your own risk’ basis

The history of Hamilton Marsh dates back to the mid-to-late 1800s when it was originally logged. Logging activities continued sporadically until the mid-1940s. Despite several efforts by various conservation groups to purchase the marsh, it may well be logged again by current owner Island Timberlands, which rejected the most recent purchase offer in 2008. At present, the marshlands are open to the public on a ‘use at your own risk’ basis.

Nesting boxes at Hamilton Marsh, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Nesting boxes help attract a wide variety of birds

Those planning to use the trail system should be aware that while the trails are easily enough navigated they are not what anyone would call ‘well-groomed.’ Wear sturdy walking shoes and be prepared to deal with the occasional muddy spot if you visit during or following wet weather. Dogs are welcome, but due to wildlife activity should be kept on leash.

Earth Day this year is Sunday, April 23 and members of the Arrowsmith Naturalists will once again be offering guided tours of Hamilton Marsh. The tours run between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Further information on Hamilton Marsh can be found at the website:

www.hamilton-marsh.com

Hamilton Marsh is located off Hilliers Road South, about 10 minutes from Qualicum Beach. Take the turnoff for Hilliers Road South off of Highway 4, go 1 ½ kilometres (about 1 mile) and park in the second parking area, which will give you easy access to the trails and the marsh.

GPS co-ordinates are (roughly)

Lat. 49.32081430570934 Long. -124.46316719055176

N 49 19.249 W 124 27.790

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Errington’s North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre

Bald eagle at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWorld class. Those are the two best words I can think of to describe the North Island Wildlife Recovery and Educational Centre, tucked away in the secluded – but easily accessible – backwoods of the mid-Vancouver Island area.

North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island,. British Columbia

Viewing areas are rustic and provide plenty of privacy for the animals in the enclosures

The NIWRC, as it is referred to locally, is located on eight acres on a quiet back road in Errington. Founded in 1984 a little further north on the Island, the centre moved to its current home at the old farm site in 1986, and has slowly evolved in to a stunning facility that serves a multitude of purposes – all of them well.

Flight cage at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Flight cage for recuperating birds

The story of NIWRC began with an injured Great Horned Owl and the ministrations of Robin and Sylvia Campbell. It has grown over 30 years to include the care and rehabilitation of thousands of birds and mammals, most notably raptors, black bears, wolves and cougars.

Treatment centre at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The treatment centre

Most wildlife treatment facilities that I have visited over the years have been smallish operations focused solely on the the tasks at hand – getting the patients back out in to their natural habitat. They have been interesting, but not particularly memorable. I don’t think there is an NIWRC visitor anywhere who could say that about the beautiful facility here on the Island. Not only is it interesting and memorable, it leaves guests enraptured. I put that down to the fact that the Campbells, their board of directors and the many staff and volunteers who make this place run have not only a love for wildlife, but an innate respect for it. It shows in every nook and cranny of the place.

Bear enclosure at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The bear enclosure – not too picturesque, but very bear-friendly

The entry to this magical world is through the centre’s gift shop. Which, of course, left me expecting commercial aspects all the way through. I was so off-base on that presumption that it’s embarrassing. Once you exit the gift shop you are transported into a world where nature reigns supreme.

Museum of Nature at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Museum of Nature

The tour of NIWRC begins in the Museum of Nature, a spectacular mortise and tenon timber frame structure that houses dozens of static displays of wildlife in their natural habitat. Detailed information tablets are located in front of each specimen, and the push of a button supplies visitors with an audio experience of what that particular creature sounds like in the wild.

After marveling in this structure for quite some time I wandered past the very well-equipped treatment centre and nursery and on towards the massive eagle flight cage – at 140 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet high, the largest of its kind in Canada. The flight cage allows for one-way viewing of many of the eagles that are in rehabilitation.

From the flight cage, on to the black bear rehabilitation area, where natural habitat is the byword – no neat and tidy enclosure here, but rather a tangle of blackberries, a pond and a mess of other stuff that forms the real world of a black bear.

Nesting boxes at North Island Widlife Recovery Centre, errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Nesting boxes

The beautiful rustic public viewing area also echoes the NIWRC’s dedication to providing as natural and non-invasive a habitat as possible for its non-releasable residents – while visitors can most certainly see the many species on display the animals are able to maintain their distance and privacy to a very great degree. Again, that intrinsic reverence for the creatures is so very evident.

Release pond at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, Errington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The release pond

A ramble around the release pond and along the nature trail yields up yet more delight – interpretive signage along the way identifies many species of the plant life to be found at the centre. And finally, a stop in another striking building, the wildlife learning centre. Again, more wonderful displays and innovative learning opportunities, and a video heralding some of the work that NIWRC does. When you visit be sure not to miss this video – it is stunning and inspiring. The beautiful footage of the raptor releases brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.

Hands down, the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre is one of the ‘must see’ attractions on Vancouver Island. The great work that they do combines with the lovely environment and positive vibe to make it an enlightening, heart-warming and very positive experience for even the most cynical among us.

The North Island Wildlife Recovery and Educational Centre is located at 1240 Leffler Road, Errington. Please note that the centre is wheelchair accessible (they even have a wheelchair available). The centre is not open year-round, so best to check out their website to ensure that you won’t be disappointed if you venture there. Further information can be obtained at:

www.niwra.org

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.293249490397066 Long. -124.35802459716797

N 49 17.595 W 124 21.481

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Qualicum Beach’s Nature’s Garden Trails

Smiley face whimsies in the Nature's Garden trails in Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

You have to look very closely to see some of the hundreds of whimsies in the Nature’s Garden trails

Thanks to a group of intrepid neighbours and an indulgent town administration (at least, we think it’s the town administration) there is an absolutely delightful, dog-friendly network of forested trails smack in the middle of Qualicum Beach. This is not an ‘official’ trail – in fact, the handful of neighbourhood volunteers in the Arbutus Street area isn’t even sure who owns the rambling acreage that they have been enhancing and maintaining for the past 20-plus years. This also isn’t just any old network of trails – at every turn along the meandering miles of the Nature’s Garden trails there is delight and education thanks to the efforts of long-time resident Hugh Gilmore (who, sadly, passed away in his eighties in 2016) and a small group of younger helpers.

Whimsy in Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaFace in tree, Nature's Garden Trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe trail system, which rambles off Arbutus Street at the edge of town, has no official name or designation, but it has had hundreds of volunteer hours poured in to it over the years. Bridges have been built over Grandon Creek, sawdust has been spread, blowdowns have been cleared and general maintenance has been performed on an ongoing basis. Although the township appears to have turned a blind eye to all of the ‘improvements,’ it has supplied official looking signs at each of the many entrances to the Nature’s Garden trail system advising that it is an ‘unmaintained, natural’ trail that may not be suitable for all users.

Whimsy on Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Whimsy on Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

It’s not real, but it sure is pretty!

Overall the trails were in excellent shape when we visited recently, if a little muddy. They ramble and criss-cross all over the place, meandering through who-knows-how-many acres of pretty woodland and over Grandon Creek. But the absolute best part is all the whimsical adornments that have been added by the community volunteers over the years. At every turn it seems, there are quirky woodland ‘creatures’ and creations of all shapes and sizes. Some of the embellishments are so small it wouldn’t be difficult to miss them altogether – look up and you may see a tiny elf sitting on a fungus attached to the side of a tree, look a little off to the side and there may be some totally charming (but indescribable) creation peeking out of the undergrowth at you. You may run in to Eddie-the-tree person, or a concrete bullfrog perched on a railing, or you might choose to rest on the bench set out as a memorial to all the beloved dogs who have delighted in the trails over the years. There are educational additions, too, including a couple of signs listing the ‘real’ wildlife that calls this enchanted place home. There are literally hundreds of charismatic characters to greet and delight visitors.

Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWhimsy on Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaOur hour-long-ramble didn’t come near, I know, to seeing everything there was to see in this captivating wonderland of whimsy. I can’t wait to go back and explore more, to wander the trails, quite possibly get lost, and discover what else Hugh Gilmore and his great crew have tucked in the nooks and crannies of this lovely spot. Such fun!

Entry to Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Main entry to the Nature’s Garden trails

Sign on Nature's Garden trails, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe trail network is most easily accessed off Arbutus Street, at Schley Place. Be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes and be aware that you may run in to wildlife (the living, breathing kind).

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.34559232998887 Long. -124.46402549743652

N 49 20.736 W 124 27.842

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Port Alberni’s Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup

Bottles of Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, british Columbia

Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup is available in two sizes of bottles

Oh my!  Those were the only words that came to mind when I recently had my first taste of Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup. The thick, buttery/caramel/maple flavour of this very unique product is a sensory delight in so many respects. Produced by the ubiquitous Bigleaf Maples found only on the west coast, it offers a completely different maple syrup experience from the product generated by the sugar maples on the east side of North America.

Although there has been some small-scale production of Bigleaf Maple syrup here on the Island for some time now, the Kleekhoot Gold is the first major commercial production. The syrup project is the undertaking of the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni which, 18 months ago, had no inkling that such a business was even a possibility. But a serendipitous moment and a questioning mind brought the idea together, and this past winter the band tapped 600 Bigleaf Maples on their traditional land. The sap is flowing now through the band’s sophisticated tapping system, and state-of-the-art processing equipment in the band’s newly-built sugar shack reduces the clear liquid to a thick, creamy delight.

Sugar shack for processing Kleekhoot gold Bigleaf Maple syrup, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The sugar shack

At the moment the source of the sap is a stand of Bigleaf Maples at the confluence of the Sproat and Stamp Rivers, part of the Hupacasath Kleekhoot territory. The wetness underfoot provides the perfect terroir for Bigleaf Maples and the sap that they produce. It takes 60 ounces of sap to produce one ounce of Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup, as a opposed to a 40:1 ratio for syrup production from sugar maples. Some of the trees being tapped at the Kleekhoot site are 1 ½ meters in diameter, and the band is being very selective so as not to tap trees that might be too immature. The beauty of the Bigleaf Maple is that the drill holes for tapping heal over within a few months, making the trees a valuable, renewable resource that have the potential to enrich the Hupacasath for generations to come.

The real delight of this whole thing is that Bigleaf Maples have generally been considered little more than a weed and nuisance species on the west coast. Forest companies had no hesitation in replacing Bigleaf Maple stands with conifers, valued for their timber. However, with no need for reforestation and the natural healing abilities of the maples they may well prove, over the long haul, to be a more valuable resource than any timber company could ever have imagined.

Syrup concentrator used to process Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup

A state-of-the-art syrup concentrator processes the sap in to Kleekhoot Gold Bigleaf Maple syrup

The Hupacasath business plan for Kleekhoot Gold was originally a slow, steady escalation of the number of trees tapped, topping out at 3,000 by the year 2020. However, initial demand is so high – 42 retail outlets have already expressed interest in marketing the product, and private pre-orders are coming from all over the country – that the aim now is to tap upwards of 5,000 trees over the winter of 2017-2018, just to meet the demand. All the trees are on band property.

So, anyone looking for a delightful culinary treat might be wanting to consider trying a bottle of Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup. I am told by those in the know that it is particularly good over ice cream.

Further information on Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup (and how to pre-order) can be found on the Hupacasath web site at:

http://kleekhootgold.ca/

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Port Alberni’s All Mex’d Up

Chicken quesaddilas at All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Chicken quesadillas

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a connoisseur of Mexican food. But I know what I like and the fresh, satisfying flavours of the recently re-opened All Mex’d Up Taco Shop at Port Alberni’s Harbour Quay definitely fall into the ‘liked’ category.

Matt Dunk of All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Matt Dunk recently purchased the taco shop

Young and enthusiastic new owner Matt Dunk purchased the business over this past winter and went to work brightening the place up. Cheerful colours abound and there is a distinct Mexican ambiance to the décor. Big, bright windows at either end of the small shop let in an abundance of natural light, even on the dreariest of days.

Crispy Fish Tacos at All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Crispy Fish Tacos

We ventured over to All Mex’d Up for lunch a couple of times, sampling the various offerings on the shop’s menu. This most definitely is not just a taco shop – there is a varied selection of Mexican dishes such as enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos and nachos available. The menu describes a tempting array of flavour combinations that is enough to get anyone salivating. There are also daily specials.

Ensalada at All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Ensalada with a cilantro citrus vinaigrette

Our lunch choices included Matt’s excellent special crispy fish tacos – a combination of fish, Baja sauce, pico de gallo and slaw on flour tortillas. I ordered the flavourful chicken quesadillas, which arrived with a generous serving of pico de gallo and sour cream. My mouth is watering at the memory of them even now, several weeks later.

Interior of All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The cheerful new colour scheme brightens the interior – and the spirits of patrons

During the course of our culinary adventures at All Mex’d Up I also enjoyed the ensalada – a lovely crisp green salad that included greens, vegetables, feta cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds and jicama. The inclusion of the latter two ingredients made for great taste and texture, complimented by an unusual creamy cilantro citrus vinaigrette. For those who are not keen on cilantro – and I know there are many out there, although I can’t understand why – there is also the choice of ranch dressing for the salad.

And, of course, there is dessert – a choice of either deep fried ice cream tossed in cinnamon and sugar or churros, tossed in the same mixture. Loved the churros, with their crisp sweet crust encasing a soft, gooey centre.

Churros at All Mex'd Up Taco Shop, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Churros

In addition to the good food, the very casual atmosphere and warm welcomes from the staff make for a really delightful experience. We saw many young families come in for lunch in what is a very kid-friendly space. Youngsters were offered colouring supplies while they waited for their food.. There is a thoughtfully-designed self-serve coffee and water bar that allows adults to serve themselves while meals are being prepared. Service is quick, friendly and efficient. And the prices…well, I don’t know many places anymore where you can get a huge, beautiful salad for less than $7 or another substantial lunch choice for less than ten bucks.

Once the good weather arrives the huge garage-door-style front window will be raised to allow in the fresh breezes off the Alberni Inlet and the activity of Harbour Quay. An eating bar out front will, I am sure, be a popular gathering point for those enjoying the fruits of All Mex’d Up’s labours. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a little down-time.

Price rating: $

All Mex’d Up doesn’t have a website, but you can find them on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/AllMexdUpTacoShop/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf

All Mex’d Up is located at #6, 5440 Argyle St. at the waterfront Harbour Quay, Port Alberni

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.234930 Long. -124.815719

N 49 14.096 W 124 48.943

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Cowichan’s Kinsol Trestle

Kinsol trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The historic Kinsol Trestle is a vital link on the Cowichan Valley Trail

There are a lot of people on Vancouver Island (and, doubtless, elsewhere) who would argue the wisdom of spending $7 million to rehabilitate a crumbling old train trestle in the middle of nowhere. We are not among those skeptics; in fact, we are very grateful for the foresight of the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the many others who saw the opportunity to open a whole new world to Island residents and visitors when they began campaigning to save the historic Kinsol Trestle, nestled in the heart of the Cowichan valley near Shawnigan Lake.

View from Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The view from the trestle to the lower viewing platform

The Kinsol Trestle has proven to be a vital and popular link in the Cowichan Valley Trail route, a 76 mile (122 km) stretch of wide, well-maintained packed gravel and dirt trails open to hikers, cyclists and equestrians. The trail meanders through some of the loveliest countryside on the Island, includes other trestle crossings, washroom facilities and picnic sites, and is relatively level, so an easy outing for virtually anyone who is reasonably mobile. It is also accessible from a variety of locations, so users can easily choose to do short or long excursions. The Cowichan Valley Trail is also part of the Trans Canada Trail, which stretches 16,800 km (or 10,400 miles) from Atlantic to Pacific.

Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The trestle offers a wide, easy surface perfect for walkers, cyclists and equestrians

Until July of 2011, however, there was a major gap in the Cowichan Valley network – the historic Kinsol Trestle was dilapidated to the point where the access at each end had been removed due to safety concerns. The only way to cross the Koksilah River was via an 8 km/5 mile detour through difficult terrain – not an appealing option for hikers, and certainly not high on the ‘to-do’ list for cyclists.

Power box at Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Photos of days gone by – this power box is wrapped with the image of a steam logging train crossing the trestle

Happily for those of us who enjoy the outdoors the regional district saw an opportunity to preserve the Kinsol and thus increase tourism and recreation in the area. Also happily, a prestigious and very capable firm located in Cobble Hill, right in the heart of the Cowichan area, proposed a conservation strategy that proved acceptable and workable.

Cowichan Valley Trail, located at either end of the Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Cowichan Valley Trail abuts either end of the trestle

The restoration of the Kinsol Trestle was no simple undertaking – at 145 feet high and 617 feet long, it is the largest wooden trestle in the Commonwealth and one of the highest railway trestles in the world. Started in 1911, it was completed in 1920 as a major thoroughfare for the logging trains that serviced the Island’s thriving forest industry. The last train to cross the Kinsol did so in 1979, and the trestle was abandoned a year later. Over the years it deteriorated to the point where it was in danger of being demolished altogether.

Cowichan Valley Trail sign at Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Information sign about the Cowichan Valley Trail, which runs for many miles north and south of the trestle

The work on the Kinsol began in July 2010, and just over a year later it was reopened to the general public. Today it offers very safe passage to thousands of visitors a year. The wide solid plank walkway, high railings and various viewing platforms both on and off the gently-curving trestle leave one marveling at our good fortune in having this gem of a link, and at the ingenuity that spawned this magnificent structure a century ago and rehabilitated it so recently. It is a great, thought-provoking connection to Vancouver Island’s history, an awe-inspiring sight and yet another reminder of just how lucky we are here on the Island.

Good walking shoes are recommended if you plan to explore any distance along the trail. Dogs are welcome, on-leash.

Further information on the Kinsol Trestle, getting there, its’ history and restoration can be obtained at the Cowichan Valley Regional District website:

www.cvrd.bc.ca/index.aspx?nid=1379

or at the website operated by the Shawnigan Lake Museum at:

www.shawniganlakemuseum.com/kinsol.html

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.66837688828138 Long. -123.69390964508056

N 48 40.103 W 123 41.635

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Crofton’s Community Seawalk

 

 

Crofton Community Seawalk at Crofton, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe tiny community of Crofton (pop. 2,500) is probably best known as a jumping-off spot for the ferry to Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring Island and, of course, for the massive Catalyst pulp and paper mill, perched on the northern edge of the town. But there is a recent (and much more attractive) feature in Crofton that draws folks from near and far to enjoy a leisurely waterfront stroll – the Crofton Community Seawalk snakes southward along the shoreline for just over a kilometre (about two-thirds of a mile).

Sand beach at Crofton Community Seawalk, Crofton, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The south end of the seawalk features a pretty and safe swimming beach

The seawalk is testament to just how much a determined little town can accomplish when it puts its mind to something. Originally conceived in the 1980s, construction on the walkway began in 2002 – Crofton’s centennial year – and continued on in three phases until the grand opening in March, 2013. It took a lot of fund-raising, volunteer labour, negotiation with First Nations and collaboration to ante up the $1.8 million to get the job done but the end result is a delightful addition to a small community that, generally, is far from the spotlight when it comes to plans made by tourists and Island residents.

Crofton Community Seawalk, Crofton, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWe visited the community and found a well-constructed walkway that was also very well-utilized.. We began our ramble just off the ferry wharf, below the historic one-room schoolhouse that now serves as the community museum, and ambled along in company with families, dog-walkers and photographers.

covered seating area on Crofton community Seawalk, Crofton, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There is a covered seating area along the walk

The first and third phases of the walkway are of sturdy, wide, plank construction made from recycled hydro poles, finished with a substantial railing designed to ensure the safety of users of all ages. The second/middle phase of the project is narrower and consists of a gravel pathway that fronts a popular recreational RV park. Towards the south end of the elevated board walk there is a gazebo with benches where visitors can rest and enjoy the scenery.

Our leisurely stroll concluded at a pretty little beachfront park that offers a safe spot for a swim or a paddle or just a nice location to sit and contemplate the surrounding beauty. The southern terminus of the walkway also links to shoreline and inland hiking trails.

White sand beach along Crofton Community Seawalk, Crofton, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe community of Crofton has done a great job with this project, bringing a different atmosphere to what, for many years, has been thought of by most as little more than a mill town. Apparently there has been some talk of extending the seawalk all the way to Maple Bay to the south – no doubt a long-term collaborative project, but what a wonderful addition that would be!

You can learn more about the Crofton Community Seawalk and all that it took to build it (along with some great photos taken during various construction phases) at :

http://croftoncommunitycentre.ca/sea-walk.html

The beginning of the seawalk is located at the end of Joan Avenue. Follow the signs for the Salt Spring Island ferry and turn right on Queen Street then left on to Joan Avenue. There is a parking lot right at the bottom of the street.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.86470064610297 Long. -123.63949298858642

N 48 51.882 W 123 38.370

 

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Qualicum Beach’s Heritage Forest

Trail and sitting bench in Heritage Forest, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Well-groomed trails wend their way through the 50-acre Heritage Forest

The story of Qualicum Beach’s 50-acre Heritage Forest is one of commitment, inspiration and a community that values natural beauty. There aren’t many towns of 8,800 that can boast of pristine forest lands right in their midst, but thanks to the dedication of the Town of Qualicum Beach and hundreds of volunteers, this unspoiled jewel continues to exist and thrive for all to enjoy.

Entryway to Heritage Forest, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The main entrance to the Heritage Forest is well-marked

The Heritage Forest of Qualicum Beach was originally part of a large parcel of land owned by the Merchants Trust and Trading Company. After the original six lots comprising what is now the forest changed hands a couple of times in the early 1900s they were purchased mid-century by Bobby Brown, who also owned an adjacent five acres with a mansion (now the Crown Mansion, a boutique hotel and small condominium development). Obviously a man who enjoyed his peace and quiet and who abhorred unbridled development, Brown purchased the municipal golf course lands as well to ensure that he would never be surrounded by subdivisions and/or commercial development.

Old growth stump in Heritage Forest, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Signs of days long-gone – notches left by loggers in old growth stumps

When Bobby Brown died in 1972 his family sold the golf course to the village for a reasonable price. The mansion and surrounding 55 acres remained in the hands of the Brown Family Trust until 1995, when the decision was made to sell.

Information plaque in Heritage Forest, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Information plaques throughout the Heritage Forest explain the intricacies of the eco-system

Thanks to the fact that a neighbouring resident was out for a stroll and discovered a stray piece of paper on the road, the Heritage Forest of Qualicum Beach exists today. The paper contained detailed plans for a 110-lot subdivision on the forest property. Obviously horrified, the local resident gathered together a group that dubbed itself the Brown Property Preservation Society. Between 1996 and 2004 hundreds of volunteers and the Township co-operated to raise the almost-$2 million purchase price for the 50 acres of forest. Fund-raising events of every sort imaginable were held until the goal was reached and the forest was saved.

Woodpecker holes in tree in Heritage Forest, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There is no lack of wildlife in the Heritage Forest – the large holes in this tree have been created by woodpeckers searching for sustenance

The Heritage Forest is bounded by several of Qualicum Beach’s residential neighbourhoods, with the main entranceway facing across Crescent Road East to the municipal golf course. The property offers up a well-maintained intertwined network of shaded forest trails that are peaceful and safe; memorial benches are scattered along the trails for those who need to rest or simply relax in a lovely setting. Visitors interested in the flora and fauna of this area will be spellbound by the hundreds of natural features and the numerous information plaques that tell of the ecology of the region. It is a unique area of young and old-growth forest, and serves as home to many rare species of both animal and plant life. An information kiosk situated in the middle of the park provides those with a naturalist bent with all sorts of interesting information. A biologist for the Victoria Conservation Data Centre has designated the forest as a rare example of outstanding special ecological significance.

Information board in Heritage Forest, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The eco-system of the Heritage Forest is illustrated on this large information board

The Heritage Forest of Qualicum Beach welcomes visitors with dogs, but due to the fragile ecosystem canine companions must be kept on leash.

Beach Creek in the Heritage Forest, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A view of Beach Creek, which runs through the Heritage Forest

The Heritage Forest of Qualicum Beach can be accessed off Crescent Road East, just west of the Crown Mansion, which is located at 292 Crescent Road East.

GPS co-ordinates are (roughly):

Lat. 49.35388151335319 Long. -124.4347357749939

N 49 21.233 W 124 26.084

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Nanaimo’s Pipers Lagoon

Pipers Lagoon and Shack Island, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, british Columbia

A view of Pipers Lagoon, with Shack Island in the distance

We enjoyed a junket down to Nanaimo recently, to explore Pipers Lagoon. Located off Hammond Bay Road, we discovered not only a lovely place for a pretty easy walk, but some intriguing history.

Bench, arbutus tree and walkway at Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Beaches, benches and pretty views abound

Depending on the time of year and the time of day that you visit, you may be able to complete the 2 km (1.2 miles) loop walk along the shoreline of the long isthmus that forms the park. The winding trail offers up beautiful views of open water on one side and the serene lagoon on the other. Completion of the walk will depend on tides – on the wintry afternoon that we visited the tide was high, so our adventure concluded at the terminus of the flat, gravel trail that snakes its way out the spit. We explored the rocky bluffs, home to a few arbutus trees and a small Garry oak meadow and enjoyed the views from ‘on high’.

View of Pipers Lagoon trail, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The view from the top of the rocky bluffs

When the Piper family purchased the land in the area in 1917 the intention was to establish a sheep farm. Unfortunately the local cougar population found it all too easy to come down from the surrounding hills for an easy meal, so the farm idea was eventually put to rest. There was another short-lived spate of commercial activity in the 1940s and 1950s when the area was home to a sawmill and a whaling station.

Shack Island, Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The shacks on Shack Island

One of the really interesting historical features of Pipers Lagoon is Shack Island, a pre-World War l settlement that evolved when local residents found themselves unable to afford even the inexpensive real estate in Nanaimo. Primarily home to fishermen, Shack Island grew in to something of a squatter’s community during the 1930s and remains so to this day. The original residents had to fight off property developers in the 1950s until an agreement was reached that allowed them and their descendants to continue occupying their very rustic abodes in perpetuity. The colourful shacks are used primarily these days as summer retreats for relatives of the long-gone founding families. There are no services to Shack Island, and if disaster strikes and a cabin is destroyed the squatters are not allowed to rebuild. Neither are they allowed to sell.

Visitor sitting on rock bluff at Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

If you are looking for a little solitude, Pipers Lagoon is the place

Shack Island has become a beloved feature of the Pipers Lagoon area, keeping alive the history and family connections that date back almost 100 years. The shacks are built on stilts to help protect them from the ravages of wind, weather and salt water.

Serpent shower at Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The very unique serpent shower, where swimmers can rinse off at Pipers Lagoon

Although the walk along the isthmus that skirts the lagoon is easy until you hit the rocky bluffs, there is plenty to see. Benches situated in convenient locations invite visitors to sit awhile and enjoy beautiful sunrises and sunsets. There are plenty of beachcombing possibilities, easy beach access if visitors feel inclined to enjoy a swim, bird and wildlife watching – the prospects are endless. Pipers Lagoon Park is also a popular spot for dog walkers and (on windy days) kite flyers. If the tide is right you can venture over to Shack Island and enjoy the historic ambiance there.

So, while Pipers Lagoon Park may not be among the largest of Nanaimo’s Parks, it has enough charm, beauty and history to please almost anyone on a year-round basis.

Further information on Pipers Lagoon Park can be obtained at the website:

http://www.nanaimo.ca/PRC/Locations/Parks/129-Pipers-Lagoon-Park

Pipers Lagoon Park is located at 3600 Place Road, Nanaimo

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.223363 Long. -123.947675

N 49 13.402 W 123 56.861

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Qualicum Beach kicks off Island Seedy Saturday season

Crowds at Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Crowds flock to the first Seedy Saturday on Vancouver Island, held in Qualicum Beach

They are popping up as readily as weeds in a garden, but the dozens of Seedy Saturdays planned for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands can’t help but lift the spirits (and, perhaps, hopes, that this year’s events will reveal a magical method of eliminating weeds permanently?).

Seedy Saturdays have sprung up all over the place thanks to the renewed interest in gardening and home-grown food that has flourished over the past 10 or 15 years. Even if you aren’t a gardener and have no aspirations to become one, a visit to one of these diverse events will instill a new spring in your step and a lightness of heart. The Seedy Saturdays are, of course, the precursors to the gardening season, and if that is the case can warmer weather and sunny skies be far behind?

So what exactly is a Seedy Saturday, you may be wondering. There are actually no hard and fast rules on this one, but the general concept is to introduce the general public to new and/or existing information about gardening, whether it be flowers or foodstuffs. Most often there are seed swaps, many of the larger events have vendors, speakers, demonstrations, raffles, door prizes, information booths. It is entirely possible that you will find heritage seeds to purchase (remember those marvellous, flavourful tomatoes your grandmother used to grow? You may well be able to grow them too). There are often ‘started’ plants available, you might find the perfect piece of ornamentation for that difficult spot in your yard, or you may have an opportunity to speak to some of the local growers who comprise your area’s farmers markets. There are frequently Master Gardeners to consult for free gardening advice. One of the beauties of these events is that you are able to talk to growers in your own area, which means they have a good idea of what does – or doesn’t – do well in your particular region.

Tomatoe seed display at Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

You may be able to find seeds that will produce the same delicious vegetables that your grandmother used to grow

One of the grand-daddies of the Seedy Saturday concept is located in Qualicum Beach, where it is moving in to its 15th year. It is the first such event each year to be held on Vancouver Island proper; until recently it was the first each year in all of western Canada. All of the features mentioned in the paragraph above, and many more, can be found at the Qualicum Beach event. It is always the first Saturday in February (this year, Saturday, February 4) and since its inception has grown to the point where vendors now overflow into the parking lot at the large Civic Centre site. In excess of 2,900 visitors pour through the doors to enjoy the varied displays and lectures, and to revel in that first breath (or at least, hope) of Spring.

The theme for this year’s Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday is Flourish and Nourish, At 10:30 a.m. There will be a lecture by Linda Gilkeson about flourishing food gardens year-round. At 12:30 p.m. Amy Robson will speak on ‘nourishing your soil – the world beneath your feet.’

Vendor at Qualicum Beach Seedy Satuirday, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There are many opportunities to talk to local growers

Other features at the Qualicum Beach event include more than 70 vendors, an indoor farmers market, seed swap, the Milner Gardens Shoots with Roots children’s program, door prizes, raffles and the seedy cafe. The Town of Qualicum Beach will have a truck in the civic centre parking lot to collect garden chemicals. From its start 15 years ago in a single room at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre this Seedy Saturday has flourished to the point where the civic centre now bursts at the seams with activities and features. Organizers are expecting in excess of 3,000 visitors this year. The volunteer force for this event is impressive too – 104 of them will be on hand to ensure that the day goes smoothly.

Outdoor displays at Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Qualicum Beach fixture has grown to the point where it now is bursting the seams of the Civic Centre

Entry to the Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday is by donation, with proceeds going to a variety of school and community garden projects. The doors open at 10 a.m. and things wind up at 3:30.

After Qualicum Beach’s event there is a Seedy Saturday almost every weekend somewhere on the Island(s) until early April. Some events have become Seedy Sundays, but a quick look at the events listing on the Seeds of Diversity website at www.seeds.ca will tell you exactly which events are on, and where, anywhere in Canada. Just click on the Events tab on the website for the listings. Virtually all of the Seedy Saturday events are organized and run by legions of volunteers in their respective communities, so be sure when you attend to thank them for all of their hard work and dedication to the cause of local, sustainable growing and marketing practises. They truly do make a difference.

Further information on the Seedy Saturday event at Qualicum Beach can be obtained by going to the website at

http://www.qbseedysaturday.com/

The Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday is held at the town’s Civic Centre at 747 Jones Street

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.34626334450604 Long. -124.4491982460022

N 49 20.776 W 124 26.952

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