Hydro parks crackle with fall

Here is an electrifying thought: when you pay your monthly B.C. Hydro bill, some of the money goes to sustain 19 recreation sites scattered around the province. In the Lower Mainland, these include Buntzen Lake, near Port Moody, and Hayward Lake, between Maple Ridge and Mission, both easy drives from Vancouver. Each is well worth a visit while fall colour is in full swing, whether you're exploring by foot, bike, or boat.

At this time of year, there's no more robust aroma than that given off by fallen leaves gathering on the forest floor. In the hush that permeates the woods, the rustling sound made by broadleaf maple leaves tumbling earthward is like a lover's secret whispered in your ear.

Such sensuous experiences are offered up along the trails that skirt the similarly sized shorelines of Hayward””in actuality, a reservoir formed between the Ruskin and Stave Falls dams””and Buntzen lakes. Of the two, Hayward's Railway Trail offers the best chance to experience the magical autumnal effects. And to top it off, historical displays along the reservoir's six-kilometre route also provide insight into B.C.'s heady pioneer days.

In the early 1900s, the shortest incorporated railway in Canadian history ran from Ruskin to Stave Falls, carrying supplies for the dam and returning loaded with cedar logs, shakes, and shingles. Cedar logging ended here long ago. Today, most of the mills that line the Fraser River are quiet. In their place are newer, value-added endeavours such as the hewn-log Shingle and Shake Pub on Wilson Road

Hayward Lake's western shoreline is indented with small bays. When the railway was in service, a series of seven trestle bridges provided shortcuts across the mouths of the inlets. Since B.C. Hydro opened the recreational Railway Trail in the 1980s, the former railbed has been widened in places and made smoother. Unfortunately, unlike the trestles on the Kettle Valley Railway, B.C.'s most famous rails-to-trails route, the bridge decks of Hayward's have been removed. All that remains are arrangements of support pilings that rise from the lake at each crossing.

These days, pathways, staircases, and the occasional bridge, such as at Elbow Creek, lead around the bays, which require cyclists to dismount and indulge in a bit of bike hiking. If you're exploring by canoe or kayak, slaloming through the creosoted trestles is all part of the thrill. And if you bring a fishing rod, you may even hook a kokanee (landlocked sockeye) salmon or a rainbow or cutthroat trout, not to mention a catfish or squawfish, though the last two aren't considered true game fish.

When contacted by phone, Elisha Moreno, media-relations manager with B.C. Hydro, pointed out that angling on Hayward is a much-overlooked activity. “We're surprised that more visitors don't take advantage of the stocked lake. Fishing doesn't get profiled nearly as much as other aspects of the recreation area, such as the 90-metre beach at the north end of the lake beside the boat launch.”  In order to preserve the tranquillity of the experience, only boats with electric motors are permitted on Hayward. Adjacent Stave Lake caters to the serious powerboat crowd.

Ringed by forest, water in Hayward Lake displays a rich, emerald-green shade, particularly on sunny days. The shoreline drops off dramatically; from viewpoints above the lake you can look far into its depths. One of the best places to experience this””and be surrounded by leafy grandeur””is from a knoll above Harry's Trail, a loop route that spins off from the northern end of the Railway Trail. Even if there wasn't a prospect, this stretch would still be well worth travelling, particularly by bike. The energy you put into pumping uphill is more than repaid by the “whoop-de-doo”  feeling generated as you thread your way downhill through impressive second-growth that lines the wide, well-built trail.

Those on foot should allow four hours to complete the round-trip of Railway and Harry's Trails, half that time by bike. If you're up for a full day's excursion, hike the 10-kilometre Reservoir Trail along Hayward's eastern shoreline. Highlights of this forested pathway include a 150-metre floating bridge near the Ruskin Dam and a viewpoint of Steelhead Falls near the Stave Falls Dam. Interesting to note, all of the wood on both the Railway and Reservoir trails was milled from recycled hydro poles and log booms””with power courtesy of B.C. Hydro, of course. -

ACCESS: Ruskin lies on the north side of the Fraser River, about 60 kilometres east of Vancouver. Blue-and-white B.C. Hydro signs indicate the turnoff north to Hayward Lake from the Lougheed Highway (Highway 7). A parking lot is located at the south end of the Railway Trail beside the Ruskin Dam, about four kilometres from Highway 7 on Wilson Road. To reach the north end of Hayward Lake, continue along Wilson to Dewdney Trunk Road; turn right here and follow the signs. The south end of Reservoir Trail is located on the east side of Ruskin Dam, on a single-lane road that leads across the dam. To reach Buntzen Lake Recreation Area, about 40 kilometres from Vancouver, head to Port Moody on Hastings Street and the Barnet Highway (Highway 7A). Turn east onto St. Johns Street and north six stoplights later onto well-marked Ioco Road. Signs point to the village of Anmore and Buntzen Lake. Continue straight ahead onto Heritage Mountain Boulevard. An even easier approach is to follow signs to Ioco, then take Sunnyside Road that appears on the right just after you've passed through Ioco.

For schedule information on the C24 Belcarra and Anmore route via the #160 bus to Port Moody from Vancouver, call TransLink, 604-953-3333, or visit their Web site: www .translink.bc.ca/.

Both B.C. Hydro recreation sites are wheelchair-accessible. To learn more, visit www.bchydro.com/recreation/.