Delta park closures puts Burns Bog Conservation Society programs in jeopardy

NORTH DELTA — Some of North Delta’s finest walking trails are now off limits after the municipality has indefinitely closed some of its best parks due to hazardous fire conditions.

This past Monday Delta’s director of parks and recreation closed Watershed Park, Cougar Canyon Nature Reserve, North 40 Park Reserve and the Delta Nature Reserve to the public until further notice after the fire danger rating was upgraded from high to extreme.

Delta firefighters, police officers and bylaw staff will be patrolling the parks and access points to Burns Bog to make sure no "unauthorized activities" take place and violators will be charged with trespassing, which carries a $200 fine.

The closure, depending on how long it lasts, poses serious challenges for the Burns Bog Conservation Society, which hosts summer camps for children at the Delta Nature Reserve from July 2 to Aug. 29, International Bog Day public tours on July 25 and the annual Jog for the Bog trail run on July 26.

The society’s president, Eliza Olson, doesn’t agree with the closure because letting people on the trails means more "eyes on the ground" looking for fires before they get out of hand.

"Metro Vancouver has not closed any of its parks and they do have bogs as well," she said.

Meantime, the BBCS is looking into holding the Jog for the Bog at Westview Park instead.

"I’m suggesting since that’s not closed that’s where they might put it," Olson said.

Last year more than 200 people participated in the jog, with proceeds helping to pay for trail maintenance and BBCS programs.

The closure order is also forcing the BBCS to look for a new location for its popular summer day camps, which are typically held at the nature reserve and teach children about ecology. There are week-long day camps, at $159 per child, and this year French Day Camps are also being offered. The latter are fully booked.

"We’re trying to find a school, but it’s still not the same experience," Olson said.

"It’s unfortunate that experience is being sacrificed."

As for the International Bog Day public tours, Olson said, "We’re probably going to have to cancel that."

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson commiserated. "Everybody’s impacted, it’s not just them," she said. "I sympathize with those looking forward to programs there but this really does take precedence, I’m afraid."

Burns Bog, North America’s largest domed peat bog, has had some spectacular fires over the years, in 1977, two in 1990, and in 1994, 1996 and 2005. The 1996 fire, started by a discarded cigarette, destroyed 170 acres of trees. The 2005 fire spewed smoke and ash over the Lower Mainland for several days, with layers of smoke extending to Squamish. It took a couple weeks to put out the fire, which destroyed roughly 420 acres of forest. It’s believed that fire was started either by a discarded cigarette or a spark from and all-terrain vehicle.

Surrey had not closed any parks by press time Wednesday.

"Parks staff are working closely with the fire department to monitor the fire risk in the city’s parks, but have not yet closed any parks," said Owen Croy, Surrey’s manager of parks. "We will continue to communicate regularly with Chief Len Garis and his fire department staff to ensure that appropriate measures are developed and implemented relative to the fire risk."

Meanwhile, Surrey Urban Mission has been called to open to help the homeless escape the smoky air, thanks to funding from BC Housing. It’s a first for the city, as extreme weather locations have only been called to open in the wintertime in the past.

– with a file from Amy Reid

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