The largest green space in Vancouver is located in Pacific Spirit Regional Park, which adjoins the University of British Columbia (UBC) on the city’s west side at Point Grey. Although the 1,885-acre (763-hectare) park is still in its ‘formative’ stage, visitors have been enjoying its trails and beaches for decades before its designation as a Greater Vancouver regional park in 1989. (Prior to the creation of the park, this area was considered part of the UBC Endowment Lands; longtime residents still refer to it as such.)
Pacific Spirit Park is particularly popular with cyclists, as well as dog owners, horseback riders, joggers, walkers, and bathers. The explosive popularity of mountain biking in the 1980s suddenly brought cyclists into conflict with those partaking in the more traditional ways of exploring the park. The park managers have tried to mitigate the problem by designating certain trails as multi-use and others exclusively for walking and hiking. Currently, there are 21 miles (35 km) of mixed-use trails, and a further 12 miles (18 km) for foot traffic. Most trails are gentle and offer visitors the opportunity of a quick getaway from the pace of the city.
Within minutes of entering Pacific Spirit Park, visitors find themselves in another realm. Although this land was exhaustively logged in the early part of the 20th century, much of the forest has regenerated into a rich mix of coniferous and deciduous trees. A hush falls upon the place as you explore its lush interior. A dozen varieties of ferns carpet the forest floor. Underfoot, decades of accumulated mulch softens your steps. Choose from over 30 trails that crisscross the park like a game of Snakes and Ladders. Some, such as the Sword Fern Trail, run for almost the entire length of the park.
One of the park’s most interesting natural features is Camosun Bog, a remnant of the most recent ice age. Bogs generally are an undervalued resource and act as the lungs and kidneys of the earth, cleansing the atmosphere by capturing and storing carbon in peat moss. Until recently, the draining of land adjacent to the bog for development caused the water level in Camosun Bog to decline. A group called Friends of Camosun Bog has made efforts to stabilize the bog’s health and promote increased awareness of its invaluable contribution to city residents. A system of boardwalks allow visitors to tour the bog and enjoy the delicacy of this specialized environment, where the western bog laurel’s pink flowers intermingle with the stiff green leaves of Labrador tea.
Native settlement in Pacific Spirit Park has been carbon-dated to 3,000 years ago. All of the park lies within the traditional home of the X’muzk’i’um, or Musqueam nation. Over the millennia, they’ve watched the river delta take shape from their riverfront homes. When they first settled here, Sea Island had not yet formed. Today, it’s the site of the Vancouver International Airport. For an insight into the richness of the cultural heritage of the tribe, visit the nearby UBC Museum of Anthropology beside Gate 4 on Marine Drive.
The best way to approach the park is to make your way to its centre, on 16th Avenue just west of Blanca Street. There’s plenty of parking here. You can just as easily take the #25 UBC bus, which stops next to the park centre at 4915 W 16th Avenue, a short distance west of Blanca Street. Pick up a trail map here and begin exploring.
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