Local parks offer a bit of adventure for free

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      In Vancouver, parks are us, big-time. Unrivalled by any other Canadian jurisdiction, this city is blessed with an abundance of municipal, regional, and provincial parks, plus several wildlife sanctuaries. Thanks to tax dollars and private donations, admission to most of these green spaces comes free of charge—except for parking fees, of course, though those were thankfully rescinded in B.C. provincial parks earlier this year.

      Thus, in the category of “best free features in local parks”, the restored free parking in West Vancouver’s Cypress and North Vancouver’s Mount Seymour provincial parks ranks those spots right behind the top three finalists.

      Hands down, the winner in this category has to be Lynn Canyon Park’s suspension bridge, just east of Lynn Valley Road on Peters Road. Don’t confuse this with Vancouver’s top tourist attraction, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, located farther west on Capilano Road. Unlike its counterpart, Lynn Canyon’s swaying walkway allows access from both banks, between which Lynn Creek tumbles. Each year, between 750,000 and one million visitors cross the free bridge, which originally opened in 1912 in one of the North Shore’s first public green spaces.

      Earlier this summer, the Georgia Straight met District of North Vancouver ranger Tyler Perrier-Ehrlick midway across Lynn Canyon’s 40-metre drooping span. The first-year Capilano University student said he had the best job in the world, one that dovetailed perfectly with his studies in outdoor-recreation management. “Four hundred people applied for this job,” the 19-year-old recounted. “I was lucky enough to be chosen. Now I’ve got summer employment for at least the next two years while I complete school.”

      Perrier-Ehrlick’s boss, Andy Robinson, is North Vancouver’s head ranger and sole full-time park patroller. Born just up the road from Lynn Canyon Park, the 45-year-old gives credit to the half-dozen seasonal staff members who assist him in the “pretty vast” job of supervising the district’s 152 parks, beaches, and greenbelts. “We really focused on Lynn Canyon this year, offering public information and safety tips on what to see and where to go,” he said by phone, “especially as the suspension bridge is the best gateway in Metro for adventure tourists.”

      That’s no idle claim. What Robinson referenced is a massive 10,535 hectares of wilderness and semiwilderness that not only encompasses Lynn Canyon Park’s cliff faces, gravel bars, and densely forested trails but also takes in the adjoining Lynn Headwaters Regional Park and Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. Asked to pinpoint his picks as the best corners of Lynn Canyon Park to explore (beyond the bridge), Robinson listed 30 Foot Pool for openness, Twin Falls and Corner Pool for serenity, and the boardwalk-covered Varley Trail that follows Lynn Creek into Lynn Headwaters Park for colour. “In fall, the water is crystal green where the creek has worn native rocks smooth over the years.”

      As for the best places to walk dogs off-leash, he suggested south of Twin Falls, where a trail leads past Corner Pool toward Inter River Park. “In spring and fall, it pays to keep your dog on-leash and out of the water. The swift-flowing current has carried more than a few away. There was nothing the owners could do to save them.”

      Robinson particularly regrets that Lynn Canyon Park, including the bridge, is not wheelchair-accessible. “Unfortunately, it’s hard to even carry strollers on the trails, as you have to always keep an eye on your footing. That being said, this is a great family park. There’s so much to see, looking up into the forest canopy, spotting wildlife, enjoying nature. This is the best of all worlds, so look after it. We welcome feedback. It’s great to hear from people. Speak up for your community.”

      One person not shy to pipe up about the best free feature in East Vancouver’s Kensington Park (33rd Avenue and Knight Street) is Wee Wong, proprietor of Auto Repairs R “Wee”. The long-time skateboarder proudly points to Kensington’s year-old skatepark, informally known as Carver Bowl, as one of the top three destinations for skaters in Metro, along with Bonsar (or Metro) Skatepark in Burnaby’s Metrotown neighbourhood and Hastings Skatepark on the Renfrew Street side of the PNE grounds. “This is a world-class destination,” Wee told the Georgia Straight at Kensington after work, “the first of its kind in North America. It’s a small park but it has everything you’d want in a pool-style design, including a ‘death box’ [a replica pool filter] that’s fun to grind over, but you have to be careful not to get your trucks hung up on it, or you’ll go flying into the deep end.”

      Kensington, an instant hit with local skaters, is the latest in a series of Vancouver skateparks, all located on the city’s east side. To Wong, this poses the question of when a similar facility will be created in an oceanside setting such as Jericho Park. Meanwhile, the 47-year-old self-described old-school skater is happy to mentor a group of local youngsters, including his eight-year-old son, Rylee. “These kids have improved so much over the past year with this new terrain to practise in. At the annual Jaks competition, held recently in the China Creek Skatepark, all our riders came first in their categories.”

      As proof, Wong pointed to the new athletic shoes worn by his “Wee Boys” riders, prizes garnered by their award-winning performances. In addition to its drop-dead-gorgeous location, Kensington’s skatepark boasts a number of unique artificial features, the foremost being a jumbo likeness of a vinyl LP, complete with grooves and bent at a 45-degree angle, a tribute to Don “Mad Carver” Hartley, who died following a collision with a fellow skater two years ago. “Don wore his helmet 99 percent of the time,” Wong related. “After a competition, he decided to do one more run, didn’t put his helmet on, and whacked his head. The tiles around the rim of the bowl were painted red, gold, and green rasta colours to honour his talents as a reggae DJ.” The LP, positioned to frame skaters against a panoramic backdrop of the North Shore mountains, has quickly proven its worth, offering money-shot material for action-sports photographers, gratis.

      Nothing reveals hidden wonders of the natural world better than a free bird-watching tour with Al Grass at the Maplewood Flats Conservation Area on North Vancouver’s Dollarton Highway. The renowned naturalist always draws a crowd. Thankfully, Grass’s expressive voice carries on the breezes that waft across Burrard Inlet east of the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing. Whether or not you own binoculars, head there on the second Saturday morning of each month. Come prepared to be astonished at the avian life that appears as if on cue.

      When reached by phone, Grass said October’s jaunt may well be the best of the year. “October is one of the most excellent months, especially if the weather is in our favour. It’s the height of the fall migration, when warblers arrive in waves together with shore birds and raptors.”

      Often accompanied by his wife, Jude, Grass leads extended rambles along the extensive network of wheelchair- and stroller-accessible trails at Maplewood Flats. Spotting telescopes provide close-up looks at osprey nests built atop wooden pilings offshore. Grass’s keen eye is all that’s needed to spy tiny green tree frogs sitting motionless at the centre of broadleaf maple leaves. Grass said that sitting still is one of his favourite pastimes, particularly on a bench overlooking the mud flats at Osprey Point adjacent to a butterfly garden, “the best place to feel like you’re away from the hustle-bustle of urban sprawl”.

      And, just like the sun, it’s free.