Walk it off in Metro Vancouver’s pocket parks

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Just as from small acorns big trees grow, so from pocket parks greener spaces blossom. That certainly has been the case around Metro Vancouver over the past three decades.

A gauge of that expansion is wildlife biologist Peggy Ward’s Explore the Fraser Estuary!. Published in 1980 by what was then called Supply and Services Canada, the slim, seminal guide covered three dozen of the “most interesting and beautiful sites on the shoreline of the estuary”.

Included in Ward’s survey were two Vancouver street-end parks, one at the south foot of Shaughnessy Street adjacent the Oak Street Bridge and the other wedged between Gladstone and Elliott streets east of the Knight Street Bridge.

Although tiny Shaughnessy with its solitary bench hasn’t changed an iota, an influx of housing development since the 1990s has seen modest Gladstone-Elliott morph from a two-block stroll along a neglected strip of the Fraser River’s North Arm into Riverfront Park, where twin multiuse pathways now wind through a 2.4-kilometre greenway that ribbons the shoreline east to Kerr Street. It’s within easy reach of Burnaby’s Fraser Foreshore Park for those keeners primed for an even lengthier outing.

Riverfront’s transformation has been a thing of beauty to behold. The Fraser River, in all its glory as a nurturer of wildlife, recreation, and industry, now lies literally within touching distance from the park’s sandy beach. Biologist Ward, whose stated goal in drawing attention to local sites was to promote greater understanding of their worth “as integral parts of this larger ecological unit”, would surely approve.

When daylight hours are in short supply, pocket parks come into their own as easy destinations to visit for spur-of-the-moment rejuvenation. To counterbalance the increased indoors time spent at home or in the office in winter months, a site with a panoramic view will air your mind out beyond measure.

Case in point: the District of North Vancouver’s Harbourview Park. Small, linear, and anchored by a row of tall black cottonwoods, the park’s modest walking trail leads out along the mouth of Lynn Creek to an offshore observation tower whose distinct shape mimics both the cranes on adjacent Vancouver Pile Driving Ltd.’s property and those at Ballantyne Pier across Burrard Inlet.

Half the enjoyment of walking to the tower is following Lynn Creek on the last stage of its run to the Pacific from its origin in the far reaches of Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. In full flood, Lynn rampages with an abandon that is only tamed where the creek flows beneath a highway span where Main Street becomes Cotton Road, and then under a nearby B.C. Rail bridge. From there, the creek’s course is pacified as it empties into the harbour.

However, combine heavy rain with a high tide augmented by a full moon and its rampaging nature can still break out. It’s at exciting times like these that a walk along the colourfully tagged railway underpass delivers an experience that far outperforms Harbourview’s petite stature. Most times, though, the creek’s pace is much less dramatic and far more soothing.

If the mood—and weather—suits, take a seat in one of the blue chairs or benches sprinkled along the pathway and gauge which way the creek is running as its freshwater current vies with the salt chuck’s tidal motion for the upper hand. Nearby, the two-tiered observation platform beckons with its overview of stevedore activities on neighbouring Port of Vancouver docks.

No need to point out the obvious: this is one of the world’s most accessible commercial waterfronts, at least from this North Shore perspective—and it’s far superior to anything on offer on the Vancouver side. High above, the Coast Mountains rise in waves to crescendo at the Lions, or Sisters. Best times to be here are at sunrise and sunset to catch the light show as the twin spires that crown the horizon momentarily turn hot pink.

Few locales in Metro offer a greenway with such variety and massive scope as the trails that lead just upstream from Harbourview into Lynmouth Park. When Mountain Equipment Co-op opened a new store on the banks of Lynn Creek in 2011, forested pathways that line both sides of the waterway—and link further inland via a pedestrian bridge with the Inter River parks, Lynn Canyon Park, and Lynn Headwaters Regional Park—received a major upgrade from the Vancouver-based retailer.

For the most part, these wide, hard-packed avenues are thronged by dogs and their owners. To make the most of an extended visit, consider exploring by bike, albeit one with fat tires suited to the more mountainous trail conditions that begin with the welcoming Richard Juryn Memorial Trail in Inter River Park. Tuck that in your pocket for future reference.

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