The West Creek Wetlands is a 66 hectare protected Metro Vancouver regional park reserve that’s normally off limits to the public. But twice a year, people are given a rare chance for a guided tour. It’s a unique opportunity to learn about this nature preserve and find out how limiting human access helps the at-risk species that call it home.
Metro Vancouver Park Interpreter Michelle Duncan leads a tour group into the West Creek Wetlands in Langley, showing them on a map which parts of the park they will be visiting on this day. She explains why this group is getting a special treat today.
“What’s amazing about this space is there’s 170 species that live here, and about twenty of them are species at risk. Because this park is restricted we actually guide people through the park and (they) get a chance to see a place that’s not open to the public. So i think there’s a little mystery behind it and they enjoy that quite a bit and they get a chance to be brought into this place and learn about why it’s special and why it should be protected.”
Lisa Dreves is the Stewardship coordinator for The Langley Environmental Partners Society, which helps Metro Vancouver’s regional parks system operate these tours.
“When people come out here they get a deeper understanding of nature I hope and a better understanding of protected areas. It’s important to keep people out, because there is a lot of wildlife here that we need to protect. We don’t have vast areas like this any more in the township of Langley.”
This land was acquired in 2007 from the Chen family, who reduced the price from 3.6 million to 2.5 million dollars, effectively donating 1.1 million dollars. The land was jointly purchased from the Chens by Metro Vancouver, the township of Langley, The Land Conservancy, and the BC Trust for Public Lands.
On this day, most of the creatures who live here hide themselves away, but Michelle finds a Northwestern Salamander that the group is thrilled to see up close.
“Sometimes all you have to do is ‘open the book’ for people and they can see what’s there,” says Duncan. “Otherwise they might just walk past it all. And it’s to really understand that right under our feet are amphibians crawling around everywhere.”
The hike through the wetlands leads to Wood Duck Lake, where there’s evidence of a thriving colony of beavers. And, with the help of a telescope, some birds – including well camouflaged killdeers – are visible in the pond. There is plenty of time to just take it all in.
“Part of the beauty of west creek wetlands is there’s a lot of places for the creatures to hide,” says Lisa Dreves. “We do only have one trail that goes in and out, there’s not a big loop trail, so when we are in the area we’re not disturbing very much of the area at all.”
Heard, but not seen on the hike, is the call of a tree frog, whose song echoes through the woods. It’s one of many creatures at risk who live here, including the Oregon Tree Snail, Red Legged Frogs, the rarely seen mountain beaver, and one of the rarest creatures of all – the Oregon spotted frog.
“There’s only 300 of those individuals left in the world,” says Duncan, “and some of them live here in this park.”
She adds, “Sometimes we have to think a little bit more about how just keeping this place special and private can make a difference. Sometimes we can just give by excluding ourselves and letting nature be on its own. For the greater good.”