Wild areas remain in Maple Ridge's Kanaka Creek Regional Park

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      Despite outward appearances of solemnity, autumn is as lively a season as any in the natural world: locally, leaves spiral from on high while waterways course with spawning salmon.

      Nowhere is this more evident than at Kanaka Creek Regional Park in Maple Ridge. To top off all the action, with the opening of the new Bell-Irving salmon-hatchery building, the park’s $1.5-million watershed-stewardship centre is in the second stage of development.

      Reached by phone at his Metro Vancouver Parks office, park operations supervisor Wayne Mather told the Georgia Straight that in recent years the little-known linear park has blossomed. “Given the amount of development we’re seeing in Maple Ridge, Kanaka Creek is becoming a real popular park for us,” he said. “Attendance last year was around 400,000 visits.”

      Mather described how planning for the watershed park located on the southern slopes of Blue Mountain began in 1966, making it one of the earliest regional parks in a system whose budget for 22 protected areas plus numerous greenways and reserves now rivals the amount spent on the much larger provincial-park network. In accord with the concept of “rewilding”, Mather said that maintaining the park’s natural integrity was paramount. “We keep acquiring small properties beside the creek when they come on the market, adding incrementally to its size.”

      One of the park’s least visited and wildest areas is the densely wooded northern sector. Mather explained that the 102-hectare wood lot, designated as the “forest core”, was acquired from BCIT in 1980 and left intact. “It’s a part of the park not a lot of folks know about, with only a rough trail leading north from Dewdney Trunk Road and connecting with Blue Mountain trails on Crown land.”

      As mysteriously impressive as the forest core may be, most visitors gravitate to the park’s two main entrances, at Fraser Riverfront and Cliff Falls. Located next to Lougheed Highway, the Riverfront Trail approach features a wide, level pathway contoured to match the creek’s oxbow shape where it broadens as it meets the Fraser River. This occurs directly opposite Fort Langley’s original town site at Derby Reach, also the site of a popular regional park.

      Beside a tall stand of poplars whose leaves are now beginning to fade, a three-storey observation tower overlooks the intertidal marsh. Where it touches the river, the hard-packed trail—perfect for cruiser bike rides—divides to go upstream and downstream. Take your pick of how close you care to get to the muddy Fraser: descend a staircase to the water’s edge; cross beside its confluence with the creek on a gracefully arched wooden bridge; ascend an observation post to drink in the big picture; or even launch a canoe or kayak.

      For paddlers looking to explore Kanaka Creek, a trip upstream is easily done from a put-in site at Fraser Riverfront’s parking area to a point near the park’s fish fence, which is put in place each October and November. Mather said that in the past few weeks, he has observed numerous pink and coho salmon returning to spawn. When queried as to the success of the fish-hatchery program—a popular feature in the park for three decades—he replied: “It doesn’t matter how big the count [of fish]…our annual Return of the Salmon event [held on October 20] is more about letting the public know about the health of the Kanaka watershed, to drive home the message not to dump oil down the drain and not cultivate invasive plants.”

      The park’s Cliff Falls entrance is several kilometres upstream from Fraser Riverfront. Adventurous types keen to explore trails and creek beds will appreciate all that’s on offer there. Others may simply enjoy the short walk downhill from the parking lot to a leafy picnic terrace beside the twin falls. Bridges span both forks of the creek, which join beneath the falls.

      Where the creeks recede individually into the bigleaf maple and western red cedar forest above the falls, scramble down to peer inside circular pools etched into the slick sandstone over hundreds of years by swirling pebbles. Each creek bed has a personality of its own. In particular, the north fork displays a world of wonder. Think Tiffany’s. Magic is captured in smooth-shaped depressions where polished rocks seem purposefully arranged. Get as close to the water’s surface as possible to appreciate the clarity of colour and palette of hues on display.

      Shapes worn into the cliffs are reminiscent of eroded shorelines in the southern Gulf Islands. Those hewn on the south fork’s tabletop and canyon walls above its cataract are particularly impressive. Look for easy access to this section from a metal bridge a short distance upstream from the falls. Above the bridge, those in search of a good walking path or some trail running will welcome the moderately steep, up-and-down Canyon Trail, which leads two kilometres to the hatchery.

      Take your time. Make like a salmon and spawn on.