Ever wonder where former labour leader Jack Munro likes to stop when out riding the Harley-Davidson motorcycle presented to him by his forestry workers on his retirement? For starters, try the Delta Heritage Air Park on the shores of Mud Bay. That’s where you’ll likely find “Union Jack” and his cronies, at the Boundary Bay Flying Club’s coffee shop, nestled next to several dozen hangars sheltering vintage light aircraft, many of them hand-built.
Nearby, the rest of the club’s 50-plane squadron sits securely cinched down in an open field beside the tarmac. This is where the late painter and pilot Toni Onley once hung his helmet. The coffee shop’s handful of booths provides a nostalgic place for visitors of all stripes to warm up on a November day spent prowling the dikes that keep Mud Bay at, well, bay.
Hard-packed dike trails are wonderfully level surfaces to stroll, jog, or even pilot a motorized wheelchair along, and the East Delta Dike Trail, which traces the shoreline on Mud Bay’s north side, is no exception. The dike is wide and elevated enough for everyone to share the panoramic views that include Mount Baker and an adjacent cluster of North Cascade peaks called the Sisters.
Large birds such as hawks, eagles, herons, and owls patrol the farm fields on one side of the dike, while on the other, huge numbers of shore birds flock. Dunlins and sanderlings, overwintering members of the sandpiper family whose combined numbers here peak in the tens of thousands, are particularly active. Their ability to instantly change direction mid-flight is a survival technique against raptor attack. To onlookers, they present an ever-changing, mesmerizing pattern in white and greyish black: one moment they are a white cloud, the next they blend invisibly with the dark background of the ocean.
Mud Bay is an adjunct of the much larger Boundary Bay. Its distinctive blend of mud flats and tidal marshes comes into its own east of the air park as the dike leads from Delta into Surrey. The dike curves inland past a point of forested marshland jutting out into the bay, then parallels the shoreline once more. Here and there are the shells of old boats, mired to the gunnels in their final resting place.
Highway 99 edges closer to the trail, until only a small fence separates the two. It’s a relief when the trail swings away from the buzz of traffic after a short stretch. From here your reward will be some rough, isolated viewpoints on the bay’s shoreline—perfect picnic and wildlife-viewing spots.
The trail terminates at Surrey’s Mud Bay Park, next to the Burlington Northern railway line. Some of the best views of the mountains present themselves here. A long, wooden trestle bridge carries the track across Mud Bay. Midmorning is the best time to catch the Amtrak Cascades passenger train as its sleek European-designed cars glide slowly across the shallow estuary.
As you make your return, find a seat on the driftwood “furniture” scattered about and take time to admire the light show over the bay, particularly at this time of the year, when sunshine shafts in as low as an airplane making its final approach into the Delta Heritage Air Park or Boundary Bay Airport to the west.
The mud is speckled with small ponds of water that reflect the colour of the sky; sunlight striking the surface of the ponds turns them a silvery-blue colour. One of the best times of the day for making this journey is late afternoon, when, even on overcast days, the bay lights up with a brilliance all its own. 1
ACCESS: Mud Bay lies about 22 kilometres southeast of Vancouver on the Delta-Surrey border. If you take the Highway 10 exit (#20) off Highway 99, you’ll be within a kilometre or so of Mud Bay. (An alternate route is to take the Highway 17 South exit [#28] and then turn east onto Ladner Trunk Road, also called Highway 10.) Cross south onto Hornby Drive at the first set of traffic lights. There is an RCMP detachment at this intersection. Take the first right turn off Hornby Drive onto 96th Street and drive to the south end. There is parking on the dike and beside the road. At this point you’re not yet on Mud Bay, having come out onto the considerably larger Boundary Bay. A more direct approach is to stay on Hornby Drive to 104th Street, following the signs to the Delta Heritage Air Park. You might find that parking is limited here, especially on busy weekends. Nonetheless, if you are travelling with small children, this is the better approach, because it’s closer to the features they’ll likely find most intriguing at Mud Bay, such as the antiquated airplane fuselage that graces the entrance to the air park. Note: In deference to overwintering waterfowl, the Mud Bay dike is closed to dogs, bikes, and horses from October 15 to April 15.
A recently released book, A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay (Anne Murray, Nature Guides B.C., $24.95), covers the ecology of Mud Bay. For more information, visit www.natureguidesbc.com/.