Many trails lead to Wreck Beach
Whether you’re a long-time resident or a new arrival, beaches around Vancouver exert a powerful magnetism that proves irresistible even in winter. Just ask Judy Williams, president of the Wreck Beach Preservation Society.
When reached at her home by phone, the veteran advocate for the 7.8-kilometre strand of sand that wraps itself around Point Grey in Pacific Spirit Regional Park informed the Georgia Straight that despite chilly weather, she visits Wreck almost every day.
“For me, it’s a lifelong love story. I’ve been going there for 46 years and helping defend the beach since 1969, when the bulldozers arrived at the bottom of Trail 3,” Williams said, describing a project that year by the Vancouver park board—which oversaw the beach prior to the creation of the forerunner of the regional park by B.C. Parks in 1975—as “the biggest fiasco of all time. They spent $360,000 on so-called erosion control that washed away with the first high tide.”
When apprised of an upgrading of a staircase on Trail 7 earlier this month, Williams was taken aback. “UBC has been making noises about opening up the south side of the beach. If that happens, I’d be out there naked with a submachine gun.”
Wrap that image around your mind and, like Williams, pay the clothing-optional beach a visit while its leafy foreshore canopy stands denuded. Trail 7, also known as the Old Wreck Beach Trail, leads down a steep embankment below Southwest Marine Drive’s intersection with 16th Avenue. At the bottom lies a secluded enclave, Oasis Beach. Recurring slumps of soil caused by heavy rains account for the privacy found there. (According to the UBC geology department, the glacier-formed cliffs have been slowly and naturally eroding for the past 10,000 years. Over the past century, human activity on the cliff perimeter has accelerated the process.)
Williams recalled that years ago she dubbed the spot Oasis Beach. “Soil from previous slumps feeds a pocket beach with white sand unlike the greyer colour left at Trail 6 by the Fraser River’s plume. It’s a little Shangri-La that miraculously has maintained its remoteness from the maddening crowds. Oasis is where we stay in touch and connected with each other. Wreck Beach regulars care about each other. This separates Wreck from other beaches. Something special happens there.”
When reached at Metro Vancouver Park’s west-area office, Richard Wallace confirmed that renewal was indeed in the air in Pacific Spirit Regional Park. The operations supervisor with the newly rebranded metropolitan planning, environment, and parks department confirmed with the Georgia Straight by phone that work on the Trail 7 staircase was intended to remediate an ongoing erosion problem caused by a creek running parallel to the path.
“It’s six-by-six timber construction with a handrail. We’re adding some new stairs plus fixing the footbridge at the bottom that was starting to get undermined. The work crew is reestablishing it with rocks to protect the trail edge in one section that was muddy and uneven.” When queried about the possible reopening of the connecting path north from Oasis Beach to Trail 6, Wallace was noncommittal. “At the moment, we’re not able to do trail repairs there. Some people are still finding their way, but it’s not recommended.” As for the Foreshore Trail that once led south beside the Fraser River from Trail 7 to the historic monument and the nearby Musqueam reserve, Wallace confirmed that it remains closed.
In total, four trails offer access to beaches collectively grouped under the Wreck Beach moniker. Not only does each strand offer its own perspective on Burrard Inlet and the Strait of Georgia, all feature unique atmospheres determined by the height of tides, slant of sunbeams, array of driftwood, and assemblage of human-made structures, all augmented by the mixed forest that cloaks Point Grey’s sea cliffs.
Trail 7’s staircase delivers visitors to the Fraser River’s North Arm. Characterized by offshore log booms and views of air traffic at YVR, this rough and frequently soggy patch offers an ideal testing ground for new hiking boots. If your plans for 2012 include tackling the West Coast Trail or similar wilderness routes, slip on a full backpack and do a test run up and down the stairs here as well as over and around the numerous blowdowns that impede progress.
Conversely, slip a toddler into a backpack carrier and explore the less demanding loop that leads down the 339-step Trail 4 staircase on the north side of the UBC Museum of Anthropology to Tower Beach. Depending on the height of the tide, amble east along the pebble beach or a rough shoreline trail toward the Second World War gun emplacement at the foot of Trail 3. From this serene vantage point, removed from view of downtown, the graffiti-covered concrete silo is the only tower in sight. Marvel at the play of light on water, rock, and wood. Strip down or not; a brisk stair climb warms all comers.
Access: Pacific Spirit Regional Park is located 12 kilometres west of central Vancouver beside UBC’s main campus. For information on Wreck Beach trails, visit the metro Vancouver website. Transit information to UBC is at the Translink website. For details on the Wreck Beach Preservation Society, visit their website. A bonus of exploring Pacific Spirit’s beaches until the end of February for some is the relaxation of restrictions on dogs on the foreshore between Acadia Beach and Trail 6.