Fraser River to get a green makeover for tourism
Metro Vancouver aims to develop a 300-kilometre, land-and water-based recreation system of parks, trails, campsites and boat docks
By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver SunAugust 6, 2010
Many people enjoy the promenade and waterfront view in New Westminster. There are plans for more recreation areas.
Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver SunThe Fraser River has been known for centuries as a working waterway, its belly bloated with fishing boats and barges and its banks stuffed with industry, agriculture and raw, wild bush.
But if the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley regional districts have their way, the river will become a tourist destination with a land-and water-based system of parks, trails, campsites and boat docks amid the historic canneries, forests, farmyards and communities strung along the south arm of the river from Hope to the Salish Sea.
The move, kick-started with $2.5 million seed money from the provincial tourism ministry last year and dubbed Experience the Fraser, is intended to connect with the Trans-Canada and Sea to Sky trails, offering a 300-kilometre recreation system similar to Australia's Great Ocean Walk, Europe's Rhine River walk and the U.S.'s Mississippi trail.
"It's about a variety of experiences; we're hoping people will travel along the river," said Wendy DaDalt, Metro Vancouver's manager for east-area regional parks. "The key theme is the connectivity ... where you can land in a boat or a canoe and camp [along the river].
"The more time you spend on the river and take the time to see what comprises the industry, it's quite interesting. ... It's what unites us," DaDalt said.
Metro Vancouver's parks committee is taking an inventory of the parks and trails that already line the Fraser River.
As part of its push, the regional district last month approved a management plan for Surrey Bend, a 348-hectare wilderness almost as big as Stanley Park that will give the public access to the river.
The City of Surrey must approve the plan as well as grant Metro a 99-year lease for the land. But if it all goes ahead, the new park, which will be kept in its natural state, is expected to open to the public in the next three or four years.
Surrey Bend will join a string of other parks such as Douglas Island and Crescent Island, which were acquired and set aside by Metro in the early 1990s for recreation.
The aim is to link all of these parks into a continuous walking, boating and cycling route, DaDalt said, noting that in some cases the route will loop away from the water if industry is in the way. The trails would also connect with the Pitt and Harrison rivers.
At the same time, newer parks will open as Metro -- along with individual municipalities -- buys or reclaims waterfront to develop for public access.
New Westminster, for instance, has reclaimed a 9.5-acre parcel on the Fraser River foreshore to create Westminster Pier Park and revitalize its waterfront. Richmond has ambitious plans for 40 kilometres of trail along the Fraser.
Langley Township is considered the "poster child" of the Metro plan with a demonstration project to develop a trail that stretches from the Golden Ears Bridge to Derby Reach Provincial Park, the historic Fort-to-Fort Trail and the Trans-Canada Trail.
The Fraser Valley Regional District has partnered with Mission to develop the Matsqui Trail.
"More and more people are recreating on the river now," said Langley City Coun. Gayle Martin, who sits on the Metro planning committee for the Experience the Fraser project. "Any opportunity we have to buy land on the waterfront, we'll do that if we can."
New Westminster, which is creating its Pier Park with a $16.6-million building grant from the provincial and federal governments, hopes Metro will be able to acquire more land upstream of the project to eventually connect the park with Sapperton Landing and the Trans-Canada Trail.
Jim Lowrie, director of engineering services, said the new park will offer a tourism opportunity for the Royal City while reconnecting the public with the Fraser.
"Historically we've turned our back on the riverfront," he said, noting that in the past century, the river was relegated to rail yards, shipping facilities and industrial uses. "We think there's an excellent opportunity to regain some of the lands for public use."
Communities such as Coquitlam, Langley and Maple Ridge are also looking to get people using the riverfront, Lowrie added. "They're all regenerating the waterfront areas; it's seen as valuable to many, socially and culturally."
Patricia Ross, chairwoman of the Fraser Valley Regional District, said the trail would help showcase the outdoor activities the Fraser Valley has to offer such as kayaking, biking and hiking trails.
The regional district has also been working with first nations, she added. "We're very excited about it," she said. "The whole region is a real jewel; a lot of people don't realize how spectacularly beautiful it is."
The joint plan, which is still in the study stage, is expected to be developed over the next 15 to 20 years, with municipalities, the private sector and first nations adding to the experience along the river.
DaDalt said this could include a bed-and-breakfast in an agricultural area, more boat and kayak tours on the river, first nations cultural experiences, and historical tales of the communities behind it. One day, she envisions, the trail could extend all the way to Barkerville, in B.C.'s Interior.
"Around the world, people are really seeking these multi-faceted developments," she said. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Many people enjoy the promenade and waterfront view in New Westminster. There are plans for more recreation areas.Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun