A palpable peace hangs in the autumn air. With the fall harvest now all but complete, 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 such as Pat Bishop, are still amazed to discover hidden corners of this semirural landscape. The Georgia Straight met Bishop in Redwood Park, a forested enclave. “I’ve lived here since the 1970s and thought I’d seen it all. I could sit here forever and take root,” the nonagenarian recounted with a bubbly laugh.
Bishop heartily agreed 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. At the moment, chestnuts, maples, and elms are displaying the final touches of fall colour, mimicking the squashes in bordering fields cultivated by Hazelmere Organics.
One of Redwood Park’s recent additions has been a play space custom-designed for children with mobility challenges. Surrey parks department operations manager Tim Neufeld told the Georgia Straight that over the past five years, 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.
Meanwhile, an evolving story on cabins of a different sort originates in Whistler, where a coalition of outdoor recreation groups headed by the local chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada have just sent a proposal to B.C. Parks to create a network of alpine huts in the Spearhead Range adjacent to Blackcomb Mountain. B.C. Parks’ spokesperson Vicki Haberl confirmed with the Straight that a request for written approval of the plan had been received. This would permit coalition members—including the B.C. Mountaineering Club, Whistler Blackcomb, several memorial groups, and American Friends of Whistler—to begin fundraising. “They’ve done their homework,” said Haberl, whose previous experience with similar endeavours includes the building of a memorial climbing hut dedicated to her late brother, mountaineer Jim Haberl, in Tantalus Provincial Park near Squamish. “Now it will have to go through significant public review as well as receiving First Nation’s approval.”
Once given the go-ahead, organizers estimate that three to four huts could be in place within five years. Such a hut network, though common in Europe, would be unique in North America. The idea is hardly a new one. In the 1940s, builders of the Diamond Head Lodge in Garibaldi Provincial Park near Squamish envisaged a string of huts along the Garibaldi Neve Traverse, a ski-touring route as popular then as today. In the 1970s the ACC’s Vancouver chapter erected a small hut at the foot of Fissile Peak in the Spearhead Range’s companion Fitzsimmons Range. The traverse covers a 35-kilometre, horseshoe-shaped route. In 1991, B.C. Parks approved more huts. The newly formed ACC Whistler chapter decided to focus on building backcountry huts along the Duffey Lake Road corridor north of Pemberton instead. Given the growing popularity of backcountry ski touring as well as summer trekking, the proposed Spearhead Traverse would allow visitors the option of exploring the route over the course of several days, with rustic shelters for comfort rather than bivouacking outdoors.
The Brown Brothers would surely have approved of that plan as well.
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, 604-501-5050. For information on Hazelmere Organics, visit the company's website or stop by their produce store on the west side of 184th Street just north of 16th Avenue beside Redwood Park. For more information on ACC huts in the Whistler area, see www.accwhistler.ca/.