On Tynehead Regional Park's Perimeter Trail, the journey is the thing

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There is a magic at play in a day trip that is hard to define. All that is necessary to experience this wonder is the act of stepping out the door, which is often the hardest move of all.

Once at a destination, a host of sensory rewards present themselves that one could never anticipate. The smell of composting leaves; the sight of bright-red rosehips juxtaposed against a tree of polished apples; the sounds of a child’s carefree laughter; the caress of a soft breeze on smooth skin; the ephemeral taste of autumn in the air.

All of these naturally generated stimuli were on offer when the Georgia Straight journeyed to Tynehead Regional Park in Surrey in mid-October. The objective on this day trip was to check out the park’s new Perimeter Trail. Talk about an instant success story. Metro Vancouver Parks planner Jamie Vala, who cycled with the Straight around the 4.8-kilometre loop, said that attendance had skyrocketed by 130,000 visitors since the paved, multi-use, three-metre-wide pathway’s debut, upping Tynehead’s annual tally to almost 400,000.

“It boosted Tynehead’s popularity into the mid-range of our parks system. Certainly not in the same league as megadestinations like Capilano River [in North and West Vancouver] and Belcarra [near Port Moody] that record well over a million visitors a year but high enough to properly reflect the population growth in the nearby Guildford and Port Kells neighbourhoods.”

A new pedestrian and cycling overpass spans Highway 1 and links the two communities at the park’s Serpentine Field’s entrance, a fact that undoubtedly accounts for the spike in attendance. Designed at Perkins + Will’s Vancouver office, the overpass lights up at nightfall with a showstopping display of shifting colours.

When reached by telephone, design director Jim Hoffman explained to the Straight that a network of LED lights connected to a computer are mounted on a series of outposts. “Unlike earlier static models, this new generation of lights offer lots of colour options,” he said. “It’s quite cool and similar to another one we built where Highway 99 nears the border. The system plays off a five-foot tall guardrail made out of stainless-steel mesh that partially reflects and diffuses the lights to produce a glowing effect.”

Referred to prosaically as the “white bridge” in daily traffic reports, the artistic spirit embodied in the Tynehead’s overpass concept spills over into a half-dozen writer- and sculpturally themed interpretive installations sprinkled along the Perimeter Trail, perfect places to catch one’s breath while taking full measure of the rolling, fallow fields that characterize the park’s eastern quadrant. Excerpts chosen from sources as diverse as frontier storyteller Louis L’Amour and singer-songwriter Kate Wolf are inscribed on eye-level tablets.

When reached at Metro Vancouver Parks’ central-area office, visitor-services coordinator Kelly Hoskins told the Straight the selections, including verses from Wolf’s “The Lilac and the Apple Tree”, were chosen to reflect Tynehead’s pioneer history. “We were looking to find something different from our usual interpretive displays,” she recalled. “We wanted a new way to get people to look closer at their surroundings and discover what they can glean from doing that. Our theme illustrates how humans impact nature, and vice versa. Lilacs and apple trees are often telltale remnants of former human habitation. It fits well with this site and its history.”

True enough. All it takes is one look through a minimalist timber door frame mounted beside the dilapidated Gerow barn to gain a new perspective on a rural landscape juxtaposed against nearby housing developments. During a pause at the site, Vala confirmed plans to restore the barn’s integrity, good news for barn-owl populations currently in decline locally as such nesting sites become increasingly rare.

Another approach highlighted by both Vala and Hoskins was to nurture the idea among visitors that the journey through the park was as important as reaching a destination. That belief is best embodied in a quote from L’Amour posted at the park’s Serpentine Hills entrance: “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are travelling for.”

Exploring the Perimeter Trail is a bit like a dog chasing its own tail. Aside from three access points, there is no well-defined beginning or end. Just start to walk or pedal and see where that leads. Chances are good that once you’ve done the loop one way—allow an hour—you may well chose to retrace your steps in the opposite direction. Experience teaches that the landscape always looks different going back the other way. First time around a towering big-leaf maple tucked into the woods may have escaped notice as a Douglas squirrel scurried past and monopolized attention.

As salmon return in fall to spawn in the Serpentine River’s headwaters in the western half of the park, take time as well to explore the network of footpaths that lead through the overhanging forest there. Just don’t try telling salmon the journey is more important than the destination.

Access: Tynehead Regional Park is located in Surrey. From Vancouver, take Highway 1 east to Highway 15 (Exit 53). Follow 176th Street South to 96th Avenue, from which signs point west to the park. For information, visit the regional parks page at their website. This Saturday (October 27), the Northwest Wildlife Preservation Society hosts the 25th annual tree planting and barbecue at Tynehead from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 604-568-4907 or see the Northwest Wildlife website for details.

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Jack* Christie
In response to a reader's letter posted in the Nov 2 issue re public transit to Tynehead:
At the moment there is only limited service during rush hours Mon - Fri.
Take the #388 Walnut Grove bus from the 22 St Skytrain station in New Westminster which stops at the park near the intersection of 96 Ave + 176 St in Surrey .
Space permiting, I always try to include information on reaching destinations highlighted in "Outside" using public transit.
Happy trails!
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