A treasured Surrey green space is the setting for an upcoming battle over its preservation, as the city moves to widen Fraser Highway.
The city is planning to expand the two-lane road into six lanes to accommodate four lanes of traffic and two lanes for light rapid transit. There will also be a separate lane for bikes and pedestrians.
Trees along Fraser Highway’s portion of Green Timbers have already been marked for being cut down.
Opponents estimate there will be about 2,000 trees lost in the 1.4-kilometre road expansion.
“It’s going to look like a lunar landscape,” said Susan Lehmann, daughter of the Green Timbers Heritage Society founder Wady Lehmann.
Surrey Manager of Parks Owen Croy said the city hasn’t conducted an inventory of how many trees will be lost. Every effort is being made, he said, to minimize the cut.
It was a year ago this month that the late Wady Lehmann and wife Betty were honoured by the city, which named a grove in Green Timbers after the couple.
Then-mayor Dianne Watts said the Lehmanns were “true visionaries of our city. They had the foresight to see the jewel that is Green Timbers Urban Forest, and their tireless work to conserve this green space is the lasting legacy they leave the residents of Surrey.”
Susan Lehmann said it’s clear the battle to preserve the forest is far from over, noting the park faces one of its most important skirmishes to date.
Nowhere else, she said, would residents sit idly by and allow destruction to happen to such a treasured green space.
She said she’s not alone, and that people are just starting to learn of Surrey’s plans to widen the swath through Green Timbers.
City staff point out the planning process for the Fraser Highway widening has been ongoing for the last 15 years.
A new consultation process began earlier this year, as the city prepares to create a light rapid transit line from Whalley to Langley along the Fraser Highway.
Staff say there will be a custom road alignment to minimize the impact on trees and that there will be accommodations made for wildlife and streams.
The road widening crosses two important salmon bearing streams, including King Creek and Quibble Creek.
Jaime Boan, Surrey’s manager of transportation, said there will be three passages under the road, two for streams and wildlife, and one specifically for wildlife.
More details will be available when the design process is complete, he said.
Feedback during the public consultation process included concerns about habitat and tree loss, increased chance of wildlife road kills and the effects of vehicle exhaust and noise pollution on the forest.
The Green Timbers Urban Forest Advisory Committee was also consulted about highway widening plans.
“Their preferred approach was the closure of the Fraser Highway and 144 Street through Green Timbers in order to create a contiguous natural forest area,” a staff report to council says. “Their least preferred approach was the widening of Fraser Highway and 144 Street with on-site habitat compensation.”
The city plans to reduce road allowances on 148 Street and 92 Avenue, which will create a net increase in dedicated park land of 6.9 acres.
Lehmann said that’s a bit of a shell game, as it’s currently green space and will have no real benefit to the park at all.
Boan said the swap is significant, as property set aside for roadway will now be returned to park.
Generally, the widening will involve tree cutting to the north of the existing highway west of 96 Avenue. To the east, the cut will be made south of the existing highway.
Those choices were made to minimize tree loss, he said.
Boan said further public consultation will be undertaken and public input sought.
If the new road alignment requires a change in the existing road allowance, that would change the park lands created in 1988, then the alternate approval process would be necessary.
If more than 10 per cent of the electorate submit a completed form saying as much, the city will have to hold a referendum on the road alignment.
The referendum would not impede the road works, just the potential alignment into park lands.
Green Timbers: A historic fight for trees
In the early 1900s, Green Timbers forest – then 5,000 acres – was the last untouched swath of old growth trees between San Diego and Vancouver.
People travelled from afar to see the huge cathedral of trees.
Despite calls to turn the area into park, in 1929 the forest was clearcut and bucked up for lumber.
On March 15, 1930, a group of people, spearheaded by the B.C. Forest Service, gathered at 140 Street and 96 Avenue and planted more than 120 saplings in B.C.’s first forest “plantation.”
Shortly after, then-B.C. premier Simon Fraser Tolmie declared that the land remain treed.
Over the years, the 5,000-acre forest (five times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park), through a series of land swaps, was reduced to the 560 acres it is today.
What remains is 1.6 square kilometres of green space that’s been vigorously defended.
In 1988, Wady (left) and Betty Lehmann were driving along 100 Avenue, when they saw a big logging truck loaded with fresh-cut timber pull out of Green Timbers forest. Betty told Wady to pull in and find out what was happening.
It turned out then-mayor Don Ross was moving ahead with the construction of a football stadium.
The Green Timbers Heritage Society was born and the plan for a stadium was quickly scotched amid public outcry.
A later plan to sell part of the forest to developers for a subdivision went to referendum in Surrey and was spiked by 97 per cent of respondents.
Now, the heritage society is gearing up for another scrap as the city plans to widen Fraser Highway from two lanes to six – plus a foot and bike path.
Wady and Betty’s daughter Susan Lehmann is taking up the charge.
More information about the park and the Green Timbers Heritage Society can be found at http://www.greentimbers.ca