If you were driving down Chancellor Boulevard early Saturday morning on October 14, you may have been lucky enough to see the sight of a young woman in a high vis vest, jumping ecstatically up and down to an audience who cheered her on, shouting: “IT’S THE ALIEN INVADERS!”
This fabulous sight was the Program Coordinator, Krista Voth, who was about to lead a group of volunteers into Pacific Spirit Park to get their hands dirty. The day was dedicated to the Forest Enhancement Project, a project kindly funded by the Pacific Parklands Foundation George Ross Legacy Fund and the Vancouver Park Board. The aim: plant over 2,000 native trees and shrubs.
Western Red Cedar, Vine Maple, Western Hemlock and Pacific Crab Apple… the potted plants clustered at the opening of the Park trail, just like we did, bracing against the harsh cold of the autumn morning. Krista and her team welcomed new and regular volunteers: signing up, gloving up, jostling and joking, gossiping and laughing. They listened intently as Krista finished her live Twitter feeds and lively performance, and got serious to give a thorough run down on the day: planting distance, techniques, be careful not to trip, please don’t poke your eye out. Then we all got our wheelbarrows and spread out, following the assigned flags like coloured breadcrumbs to the belly of the forest.
There was a lovely gentle feeling of community as everyone quickly got to work. The soil was loose and dry underneath the thick soggy mulch, the plants slipping into their new homes easily. Conversation flowed through the trees as bodies began to warm from the labor. As a first-time volunteer for the Society I was grateful to be spending my weekend in this place. I always love being in the Park: the woodland makes me feel something there are no words for. I noticed every single person wore a smile. Any drizzle from the skies was caught in the canopy and we all hoped for a late heavy shower to settle in the new occupants.
So by now you’re probably thinking: will she ever get back to the aliens? What was that all about? Well, to put it simply: Krista had been reenacting a promotional video she had recently seen, which creatively tried to address invasive species by dressing up their staff in alien costumes and having them pop out of shrubs. The concept was great, but the message could easily be lost. I could see Krista’s message to us for the day, on behalf of the Society, was one that was perfectly executed, when she presented a club sized sponge cake, the words in thick glossy icing: thank you.
Some stats: Over three events like the one described above, 106 volunteers came out and planted a total of 1,837 plants! Amazingly, this converts to 563 volunteer hours gifted generously to the Park.
Written by Ruby Ewens
This fall you can help PSPS by looking for returning Chum and Coho salmon in Spanish Banks Creek and Acadia/Salish Creek. The best time to look for salmon is during high tide when the fish can reach the stream. All you need to do is stand on the bridge or trail and watch the stream quietly for 5-10 minutes (or more, if you like). If you happen to see an adult salmon you can take a photo of it (if possible), make note of the time and share it with us at email@example.com.
EARLY RUN: late July through late September
LATE RUN: late September through November
EARLY RUN: late August through December
LATE RUN: January through February
Remember: Keep dogs and feet out of the stream and stay on the designated trail or bridges to view the stream.
We met on a cool, bright afternoon, full of late autumn sunshine. I was quick to identify the reasons people had spoken such fond words about him as he greeted me in a crowded coffee shop, his hand extended, a yellow mug balanced in the other, asking me my name. The confidence David exuded did not deter my shock. After a few formal introductory emails, and information that I had clearly misunderstood, I realized my critical mistake: David was not a volunteer of the Pacific Spirit Park Society (‘the Society’) for seventeen years, but a volunteer of seventeen years. The next half hour would prove the biggest nightmare for any interviewer, as I was forced to abandon my premeditated questions. However, something equally lovely happened: I found myself not needing that hackneyed script and became increasingly curious about this high school boy who gave up a lot of his free time to volunteer.
David juggles his role as Volunteer Leader at the Society, events for Sea Watch, seasonal work at an Equestrian Farm in Southlands and is also the head sound technician at his high school, working in the technical aspects of theatre production. He has also applied for a scholarship with Metro Vancouver Regional Parks for youth leadership – something the Society would love to see David flourish in. As part of the leadership team for PSPS, David guides groups of volunteers, ensures they are handling tools safely and correctly, and helps them complete the day’s assigned task. The thing I found myself really wanting to know was why. Why come out every week, away from family and friends, to tramp around in a large, musty park? David, humble and obliging, said he started volunteering for the Society simply because it was something to do. Weekends for David in his early high school days had plenty of room to fill, and he explained further: “it felt nice to be part of an organization on some mission. I liked the stuff we were doing. I enjoyed the restoration and it felt like we were helping the park and helping people use the park.”
As our conversation continued, I discovered he was both clever and pragmatic.
“The Society has made some good choices,” he informed me, such as “making the tasks more and more large mission orientated as opposed to individual changes every day. It’s good for a low level volunteer perspective to see it as mission orientated.”
He was sitting in front me: layers and layers of blue like a cloudless sky, the combinations endless. The crystal blue of his eyes disappeared under long lashes, head bent forward over a sky blue buttoned shirt, accompanied by a baby blue puff jacket. When I heard David talk I thought of what it feels like to volunteer myself, this mix of purpose and fulfillment, time spent doing things you love, not needing monetary exchange to give it value. The value already inherent in the act.
“I think the thing with volunteering is the feeling you are doing something terribly important,” he said, voicing my thoughts, then bringing it back to the Park: “especially with the mapping and the water monitoring, because to me that feels like data gathering and helping research. Ecological restoration in all forms is valuable…we are collecting data and it feels nice that the data you are collecting is going in at least some capacity to someone to use for research purposes.”
I commended him on his efforts, telling him he is valiant in this altruistic attitude. He encouraged people to join the Society and described they had a few regulars but generally there was a high turnover of volunteers, the majority being made up of UBC (university) and St George (high school) students. The time commitment is understandably difficult, especially after people graduate. David is in his last year at Prince of Wales High. I asked him what he wants to do when he graduates and cringed: I hated getting asked this and remember only too well the mundane pressure, the desperate inability to forecast a career, the vultures that circle when you become too introspective. But David is looking beyond the local paddocks. He has eyes for East Coast or American universities that don’t require you to elect a Major until the second year, thus offering him greater freedom for a little while longer.
“Right now I’m sticking with a Math based focus,” he told me. “But I like the more social aspects of sciences as well: how it connects to policy. That interests me. I say Mathematics because I’m interested in it but it’s hard for me to rectify that with also liking governmental policy and how that is influenced by scientific thinking and research…That is one of the things I look forward to in university: the ability to explore different avenues. More so then anything else that is the most valuable thing to me.”
This clear articulation inspired in me a desire to have had David’s certainty around something that in its very nature is uncertain: the future.
Towards the end of our chat, when we were winding down, David said he had an interesting and useful story for me. I chirped in anticipation. And so he told me how he found out about the Society in the first place, in 2014, through a school tutoring program, Brain Boost. “I joined along for the day … removing ‘invasives’ and it stuck with me, and then I remember a year later I thought: ‘how could I get involved in that?’ I guess the message for that is I think it is valuable for some sort of involvement – trying to get schools to get out – I don’t know how viable that is. But I didn’t know it existed beforehand.”
He also gave me a new perspective, something I had not really recognizing before. He talked about how the new developments going up were more and more a reflection of the Park, tall wood buildings scaling to Vancouver’s big skies when the clouds weren’t sitting there, bellies full of rain. All that wood: the raw and the planed, the creaking and the polished. I loved the thought of how they could mirror each other, one side crafted by nature, the other side crafted by man. Even drinking our coffees we were surrounded by wood: the spirit of the park never far from our consciousness.
“It’s important for the UBC community. It really makes the whole UBC architecture work. A lot of the new architecture is very environmentally focused … new uses of woods. To a greater extent just the general feel of the UBC area and the greater Endowment Lands; I think the park is very important to its style. That’s what I like. I think I appreciate the Park first for just being there, almost, as opposed to being a bunch of residential buildings.”
I loved the small answer David gave me when I asked what his favorite thing about the Park was; apart from liking that it was maintained. Sometimes things are best when they are put simply: “it’s beautiful.
Written by Ruby Ewens
Photo: Andre-Phillip Picard
GREAT BLUE HERON
Great Blue Herons build colonies in trees near the water. Currently, there are no heron colonies in Pacific Spirit Regional Park, but there were for many years and we hope they will return to nest in the park again someday. You can see herons feeding in several areas of the park, including the foreshore, streams and wetlands.
Herons eat fish and amphibians from shallow water. At low tide you can see the herons patiently waiting for a little fish to swim past so it can quickly snatch it up. They can also be seen visiting the Camosun Bog and Beaver Pond in hopes of finding a delicious frog or some tadpoles to feed on.
The Great Blue Heron is the largest and heaviest heron in the world. They have a deep call that sounds like a trumpeting fraaahnk! They often can be heard at night when they are more active.
Photo: Linda Mueller
Barred owls live in forests with tall trees and an open understory.
Small mammals are the favourite food for the Barred owl. They can find mice, voles and squirrels to eat in the park.
The Barred owl likes to live alone and is difficult to see in the park because it come out at night to hunt. You may be able to hear them calling in the daytime. Their call sounds like who-cooks-for-you.
Photo: Linda Mueller
Pacific Treefrogs lay their eggs in the Beaver pond, Camosun bog and Spanish Creek nursery pond, but you can hear them singing their song in early spring throughout the park.
Pacific Treefrogs love to eat insects, but they also eat their own skill after they shed it!
The Pacific Treefrog is the smallest frog in the park, but it is the most common and noisy. During mating season one male starts to sing and many other will join in. These frogs are often green, but they can also be red, brown and even blue!
Photo: Linda Mueller
The Garter Snakes in Pacific Spirit Regional Park live near aquatic or wet areas of the park, including the Camosun Bog. They live in hibernacula with snakes of other species.
They feed upon earthworms, small fish, larvae and amphibians.
They will slither into the water when the snakes are startled and can dive right to the bottom of the bog pond to hide. They also hide under the boardwalk or under rocks and logs. The Garter Snake can strike and bite when threatened, but are not poisonous. They do emit a foul-smelling musk from their gland vent and release feces and excrement in order to escape.
Scaly, or deeply furrowed into plates, dark brown to blackish
Needles in pairs, oven curved or twisted, deep green, 2-7 cm long
Pollen cones are small, reddish-green in clusters at the tips
Seed cones are egg-shaped and slightly curved, scales are stiff and brown with a sharp prickle at the tip, 3-5 cm long
Grows in and around the Camosun Bog, since it can tolerate low-nutrient wet areas
Mature bark is reddish-brown, scaly, thick and furrowed.
Needles are yellowish green on their upper surface and whitish with 2 thin lines of stomata on their lower surface. They are short, flat and blunt, irregularly spaced and of unequal length: needles on the same twig can be 0.5-2 cm long. They are arranged spirally around twigs, but are twisted at the base so they appear to extend horizontally in two tiers.
Pollen cones are small and numerous.
Seed cones are also numerous and approximately 2 cm long and oblong. They are purplish-green when young and become light brown when mature.
Western hemlock are distinguished by their unequal needle length and the feathery, flat appearance of their branches. They have a noticeably drooping leader.