I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Viaduct Flats Restoration Walk

Some time ago I was looking for opportunities to learn more about environmental topics and came across a program offered by UVic.  Specifically the UVic Restoration of Natural Systems Program and Division of Continuing Studies.  People were able to sign up for three different "Restoration Walks" taking place during the month of February at sites around the Capital Regional District.  The options available were Rithet's Bog, Viaduct Flats and Ogden Point.  They have since opened up another walk the first week of March at Esquimalt Lagoon.

To quote the UVic site, where you can get more information and/or register, the purpose of these walks is to enable "participants to see first hand restoration efforts occurring in Greater Victoria’s “lost” streams to improve their value as natural habitat."  I felt that the walks were a great way to not only learn more about some of the projects going on in our area, but also check out a couple of places I had not been before.  I was obviously a little behind as when I attempted to register I had to put myself on a wait list for all three of them.  Much to my delight I got an email informing me of the added session at Esquimalt Lagoon, which I promptly signed up for, and then another email a day or so later saying that a spot had opened up on the Viaduct Flats walk.

I have never been to the Viaduct Flats before and as I slowly cruised down Interurban Road I was relieved to see a gentleman in a very bright yellow coat, with binoculars around his neck marking the entrance to the parking lot.  This friendly fellow turned out to be Val Schaefer, the Academic Administrator of the Restoration of Natural Systems Program, School of Environmental Studies, who was accompanied by Jessica Miles, a graduate of the UVic Environmental Studies Program.  Our local expert for this walk was Hoke Holcomb who has been involved with restoration of this area since approximately 1997. 

To give you an idea of the history of this area I will include a quote from the pamphlet we received: "Once covered with ice and essentially a shallow ocean, the area dried to a freshwater lake and then marsh after glacial recession."  Fast forward to the 1980's and this land consisted of plowed fields growing potatoes and daffodils.  In the late 1980's and early 90's, after the agricultural lease expired, studies were undertaken to determine how this area would be preserved as parkland.  In 1993 a lone beaver made its way to the area and built a dam.  The resulting open water led to an increase in bird activity and when the beaver died in 2001 the decision was made to install artificial weirs in order to maintain the water level.

As this area was created with the intention of being a publicly accessible park certain parameters had to be considered as planning began for a trail network through the 38 hectares.  Essentially the goal is to have a closed canopy Douglas Fir forest with several open meadows.  The committee that manages the area feels that maintaining several meadows is important to the overall aesthetics of the park from a public perspective, but have planted thousands of trees in an effort to connect the existing Douglas Fir "islands" with forest corridors.  Over time, if left untended, much of the meadow areas would naturally revert to thick forest including walls of English Hawthorne and Himalayan blackberry, so these meadows will have to be artificially kept up by periodic mowing.  In addition to the extensive efforts on land, there is still work to be done as far as the creek is concerned.

The Viaduct Creek is fed by a Spring and is a tributary of the Colquitz River.  According to Hoke, salmon come as far up the river as Quick's Bottom, but the committee is hopeful that after some creek rehabilitation there will eventually be salmon fry residing in the shallow water of the Viaduct Flats.  Currently the focus is on a section of Viaduct Creek which would benefit from the addition of "large woody debris" to help slow the water and reduce erosion of the banks.  To be brief erosion causes silt and this is not conducive to salmon spawning.  I also learned that "large woody debris" can mean whole trees, with root system still attached, being laid in the creek.  There is of course a fairly large price tag associated with the restoration work and I was not clear on whether funding is already in place. 

Overall the scenery was beautiful, the trails were easy walking, and the area is like a bird watcher's paradise.  There was a diverse group of birds swimming in the open water, a heron flew in shortly after I arrived and I was thrilled to see a pair of bald eagles, which I am told have nested in the trees here at the Flats for the last two years.  Hopefully they are back for year number three.  I found it very interesting listening to Hoke describe the history of the area and not only the work that has already been done, but also his vision for the future.  He passed on much more information than I have shared in this post and I would recommend the Restoration Walks for anyone who is interested in more than just a place to walk.  I have definitely added the Viaduct Flats to my list of places that I would like to show my kids.  Next up - Ogden Point...

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