City of Parksville continues wetlands trail system expansion

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Drier summers brought on by climate change have made it crucial to expand the Parksville Wetlands trail system, according to the city.

The city needs to provide access for maintenance, emergency access and safe egress for ambulance and fire protection, according to a media release.

“Over the past two summers, we experienced a grass fire of about 700 square metres and a fire which burned a section of the wetlands in a more treed area. Without safe emergency access, the potential for loss within our wetlands and the risk to nearby residential areas is very high,” reads the release.

There are nearly 200 dead trees in the section south of the railway and city staff can now safely access the area to mitigate tree hazards and remove dead wood, as part of the city’s Urban Forest Strategy to manage the area’s fire fuel load.

Crews are completing a loop on the north side of the railway line through the wetlands, connecting the Hirst/Renz corner to the end of Despard Avenue, the city said. This will complete a 2.3-kilometre loop trail within one side of the wetlands. 

This section of the park was cleared entirely a few decades ago as part of the Ermineskin subdivision and is made up mostly of pioneer species such as grasses, red alder, deciduous shrubs and some shore pine, according to the city.

Staff developed a standard for Parksville trails which is used for both vehicle access and as accessible, pedestrian friendly trails. By combining techniques developed at the Municipal Insurance Agency of B.C., along with trail standards created by the Regional Municipality of Whistler, staff constructed a double track, 5 m wide trail. Lesser trails branching off this double track trail will reduce to 2 m in width and are for pedestrian use only.

When building trails, staff take into consideration the equalization of water in the park and keep the trail to higher ground as much as possible and avoided all pond areas, according to the city. The city also said retaining as many conifers as possible is a priority. 

Permaculture methods such as hügelkultur have been employed to ease fire concerns and the city also planted berms along the trail. The berms are built from woody debris and soil excavated from the trail bed. The gradual decay of the wood sequesters carbon in the soil, provides for aeration of the soil, makes for a consistent long-term supply of nutrients and stores water better during droughts, the city said. The berms help manage the water in the wetlands by keeping it in ponding areas while also keeping pedestrians and their dogs on the trail.

The city said it has received positive feedback about the new bright limestone-capped trail areas that help the visually impaired, as well as the new accessible parking areas on Coldwater Road.

Culverts were installed at regular intervals to help equalize the water throughout the park and there is now a solid, dry base for walking. Sightlines are more open providing good visibility and improved comfort if walking alone. A small city crew completed almost 3 km of 5 metre-wide trails in less than six months, according to the city.

The city asks people using the park to respect trail closure signs and urban forest restoration areas and to always keep dogs leashed and on the trails.

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