Story by Tricia Edgar
NORTH VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — They walk in with a camera, quizzical grins on their faces.
“Can you tell us what we saw down at the creek? They were brown. Maybe beaver?”
I look at the tourists. Not beaver, no. In spite of their status as a Canadian icon, there are no beaver in the park where I work. The only aquatic animals are tiny bugs, frogs and the occasional salmon that makes its way up to the falls.
“But they were quite large. We thought that they were beavers. They were sitting on a rock.”
Maybe they were rocks themselves, I say, doubtfully.
The couple brings out a camera. They turn on the video, and there are the animals in their full glory: river otters in our urban creek.
“Those are otters!” I exclaim, watching them splash in the spray next to the waterfall. “When did you see these?”
“Oh, just a few minutes ago.”
It’s 5 pm. I race down to Twin Falls to catch a glimpse of these new residents of Lynn Creek.
Lynn Creek is a rough and tumble river that begins in the coastal mountains, sweeps through open floodplains and squeezes through small canyons on its way to the ocean. It’s also a distinctly urban river. Even though it begins in the far reaches of the mountains where few hikers manage to tread, it soon rushes down through the suburbs of North Vancouver and into the industrial zones that line Vancouver’s waterfront.
The creek is well known for the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, a wiggly bridge that towers over the canyon below. Under the bridge, the creek leaps from its floodplain over a waterfall into a 90 foot pool.
The park is also home to the Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre, a nature centre that caters to tourists and locals alike. In the summer, the air here is cool and the temperate rainforest is inviting. Tourists enjoying the Vancouver and Whistler region make their way up into the canyon from the Seabus that crosses Burrard Inlet or as part of a tour like Cantop Tours.
In spite of its status as a longstanding suburb of Vancouver, the North Shore maintains its rugged nature. The trails on its mountains are world-renowned in the mountain biking community and hikers can walk for hours on the network of forest trails that extend deep into the mountains.
Many of the residents of the District and City of North Vancouver live here because of the North Shore’s rugged wilderness character. Look over from Vancouver on a sunny day and you’ll see blue-green mountains silhouetted against the sky and dotted with clouds, rivers running down their flanks.
But in spite of its rugged appearance, the North Shore has been subject to the same environmental troubles as suburbs across North America. Salmon have been disappearing from the creeks along the coast of North America. The fish are an icon of the Pacific Northwest. At the time of the year when the other plants in the forest are gradually going dormant, the return of the salmon is a symbol of life returning.
But the tiny streams where the salmon begin their lives have been covered by tarmac and placed in culverts. The damp side channels that act as salmon nurseries now contain industrial parks. In the areas that are not as heavily populated, salmon are threatened by warming oceans, disease, and dams that block their path. It’s a hard time to be a Pacific salmon.
I know all this. As I walk down to the waterfall, I realize that the presence of otters has a meaning far beyond the otters themselves: there are salmon in the river. For decades, the Morten Creek Salmon Hatchery has been slowly reintroducing salmon to the Lynn Creek watershed. As a child, I was thrilled to be part of some of the first salmon releases on the river. Very slowly, and with an eye to the ecological integrity of the whole watershed, the Morten Creek volunteers have transformed a tiny drainage ditch for an old dump into a small but thriving salmon stream that feeds into Lynn Creek.
As I walk down the steep steps into the cool canyon below, I muse about what the presence of a predator means to our watershed. Zo Ann Morten, after whom the creek is named, says that the gradual reintroduction of salmon has been of huge benefit to the watershed’s predators. “On one day I counted 12 eagles soaring over the creek looking for lunch.”
The relationship between predator and human is not always a happy one. Coyotes love Vancouver’s open spaces and frequent many of the area’s urban parks, searching for mice, rats, and the occasional cat. Bears nibble on the fruit that falls from the neighborhood trees. Other predators prefer wild places and shun urban environments altogether. Grizzlies live in the far-off reaches of the mountains. Many predators such as the simply don’t have enough food and space to live in urban environments. But the otter’s true love is fish, and it has come to visit the place where the salmon congregate at the bottom of the falls. Will it find what it is looking for?
I am at Twin Falls. In the winter, the water here is a rushing torrent whose spray reaches the small wooden bridge that spans the canyon. In the summer, the water is a clear green that turns quickly into white water as it rushes into the depths below. Here, the canyon walls are lined with maidenhair ferns that thrive in the water that drips off the rocks above. The creek narrows into a small, rushing canyon and cascades over two waterfalls, one right after the other. Below Twin Falls, the creek is flat and calm, perfect for a salmon seeking to dig its redd and lay its eggs.
And there they are. As I walk across the bridge I see the otters, red-mouthed and full-bellied, finishing off their catch. One of them drags a salmon out of the water, and the others feast. None of the other people standing on the bridge seems to realize that the otters are there, or perhaps they do not find it at all unusual.
In the years since my hurried visit to the falls, the otters have returned again and again to the streams and ponds in the Lynn Creek watershed. Local Streamkeeper Bob Parrott watches them fish in the pond behind his house. Although most of the residents and tourists do not realize that the otter are there, the animals are a quiet indicator that the waters of Lynn Creek are not as quiet as they once were.
A predator is an indicator of the health of an ecosystem. To invite an animal that loves fish back into an urban environment, you need fish for them to eat. These playful, salmon-covered otters are an unlikely symbol of hope. As the fish return to Lynn Creek, the otters have returned as well.
If You Go
Where to Stay
There are no large hotels in Lynn Valley, but there are many bed and breakfasts. You can find them at the North Shore Bed and Breakfast Association: http://www.bbvancouverbc.com/.
Alternatively, you can stay at the Holiday Inn a 10-minute drive away. Find them at www.hinorthvancouver.com.
Where to Eat
There are many chain fast food restaurants in the Lynn Valley area close to the mall. The mall is located near Mountain Highway and Lynn Valley Road, a 5-minute drive from the park. There are also three sushi restaurants in the mall area.
If you are there for breakfast or lunch, the tiny Tommy’s Café is tucked away across from the Starbucks next to Mountain Highway and Lynn Valley Road. The café caters to the mountain biking crowd and is a source of delicious eggs, toast, waffles, bacon, and more. Call them for opening hours at 604-988-0053.
In the park, the Lynn Canyon Café offers casual food and is open seasonally. Call them at 604-984-9311 to see if they will be open when you arrive.
CanTop Tours (www.cantoptours.com) brings groups into the park regularly. Call other local tour companies: many of them stop in the canyon upon occasion.
The Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre offers guided summer programs for adults and children. Find them at through the District of North Vancouver’s ecology website
When to Go
July and August are the driest months of the year, but the canyon is beautiful in any season. September is often lovely and much less busy than the summer. Go early in the morning if you want to see wildlife. In the summer, the park becomes very busy by late morning and continues to be busy late into the evening. 9 am is a good time to arrive, when the forests are quiet and wildlife is more likely to venture out onto the trails.
Get a map
The trails are marked, but there are many informal trails. The Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre’s web site has a free map to download. You can find them at the District of North Vancouver site.
Be prepared for all sorts of weather. Even if it is sunny in Vancouver, the Lynn Valley area is famous for its large amount of rainfall. Wear appropriate gear for the weather.
Bring good hiking shoes. The canyon is steep and the trails are often wet and muddy.
Be prepared for bears. There are black bears in the canyon and they do visit the local neighborhoods, particularly in late summer and early fall when the fruit trees begin to make fruit. Speak loudly and leave lots of space for wildlife to cross the path.
The canyon is a front-country wilderness with a lot of backcountry close by. As such, it hosts many of the more urban animals as well as a smattering of larger animals. You may see:
- Resident birds (robin, chickadee, varied thrush, junco, dipper)
- Woodpeckers (Pileated, hairy, downy, sapsucker)
- Migratory birds (Swainson’s Thrush, warblers)
- Salmon and trout (various species)
- Banana slugs
- Black bear
- Cougar (unlikely, but present)
- Otters (unlikely, but present)
Adventure Location and Direction
To get to Lynn Canyon Park on public transit, take the Seabus across Burrard Inlet from Vancouver. Take the #228 or #229 bus and ask the bus driver to let you off near the park. The bus that runs close to the park is the #229, and the bus stop is Peters and Duval Road.
To drive to the park from Vancouver, go over the Ironworkers’ Memorial Bridge. Take the #19 exit for Lynn Valley Road. Stay right. Go past the mall. Several blocks after the mall, turn right on Peters Road. There is a large sign there that points to the park. At the end of Peters Road there is the park entrance. The Ecology Centre, Café, and trails are at the end of the parking lot.