Tree lover Ira Sutherland thinks Metro Vancouver should do a lot more to showcase the giant trees in a large North Shore recreational area called the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve.
Sutherland, who has a masters in forest ecology, said he will suggest putting up viewing platforms when the region hosts an open house at Capilano University’s Sportsplex Gym on Sept. 24 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., to talk about the area’s future.
“The public loves these big trees. They are spiritual and uplifting. There is something timeless about an old forest. Trees seem to lend themselves to the limits of the earth,” said Sutherland, 31, whose website vancouversbigtrees.com tracks green giants in the Vancouver area.
The conservation reserve, 14 times the size of Stanley Park, is located at 4400 – 5600 Lillooet Rd., a few kilometres from the north end of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge.
But far fewer people walk and cycle its trails compared to other urban getaways.
Private vehicles are not allowed into the reserve because of concerns about the quality of drinking water in the Seymour Reservoir which lies a few km upstream of the reserve. The key to personal mobility is a dedicated 10-km paved pathway for hikers, cyclists and rollerbladers. Metro Van has expanded the parking lot, upgraded washrooms and carved out 100 km of hiking paths.
“I was shocked when I saw this wilderness at the doorstep of Vancouver 10 years ago. It’s definitely under-utilized,” said Sutherland, 31. “Alpine areas in the region are well-known, but these valleys are less appreciated with their big trees, waterfalls and salmon.”
Metro’s education coordinator Erica Forssman said the region wants to boost the number of visitors above the 150,000 who come annually.
“The big trees surprise people. We don’t have to drive to Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island to see them. This place is unique, because people can visit,” she said.
One stand which Sutherland would like to see highlighted has been called the Temple of Time, a patch of Douglas firs about five km into the reserve and one km west of the road. They occupy a part of the U-shaped valley where elevation starts to rise dramatically.
The trees are among the tallest Douglas firs found in B.C. and one, dubbed the Temple Giant, is “definitely top-10 in the province,” said Sutherland.
It is 86 metres tall — a good deal higher than the 61-metre deck on the Lions Gate Bridge — and was alive in the time of Christopher Columbus.
Another stand has survived on the valley bottom. It is on the west side of the river about two kilometres from the Seymour dam; Forssman isn’t sure how they escaped loggers’ saws more than 100 years ago.
“We think it was a boggy area which couldn’t be logged. It was just too challenging,” she said.
One towering spruce is more than 500 years old and 64-metres tall, with a straight grain so perfect that the species was once used to build war planes. The base of a nearby western red cedar is so large that it would take a half-dozen people to surround it joining hands.
“There’s some amazing trees here. It’s a real wow factor,” Forssman said.
She said the old growth was one of the city’s “undiscovered gems” and an alternative to Stanley Park.
“Stanley Park is a tourist hub. It’s nice to feel you can get away from it all and feel at peace by sitting in calm spots listening to the birds. There is no phone service,” she said.
The open house on Sept. 24 aims to raise the area’s profile, hear peoples’ thoughts and show off all the work which has done to make the place hiker-friendly and provide informational displays.
“We want people to visit. We hope young people visiting on school tours will fee empowered to be involved. We live in an incredible part of the world,” she said.
Metro also has an online survey on the reserve at metrovancouver.org.