Opinion

COLUMN: Our river trail system just keeps growing

Westminster Pier Park, opened in 2012 in New Westminster, added 600 metres of waterfront trail to the system. - PWL Partnership Landscape Architects Inc.
Westminster Pier Park, opened in 2012 in New Westminster, added 600 metres of waterfront trail to the system.
— image credit: PWL Partnership Landscape Architects Inc.

On the surface, it’s just another proposal for a business park.

But it takes us one step closer to having a trail system that runs the entire length of the Fraser River from Hope to the ocean.

This particular project is in Burnaby, next to the regional incinerator.

Once this 65-acre site is redeveloped, it will add 500 metres of public trail to a system that already provides 4,600 metres of trail along Burnaby’s 6,600-metre riverfront.

That means there’ll only be about 1,500 metres left to go.

Most of the trail is in Fraser Foreshore Park, a linear park running from the incinerator to the Vancouver border at Boundary Road.

(If you feel ambitious, the trail keeps going on the Vancouver side, too.)

My office is next to Fraser Foreshore, and the path offers stress-reducing exercise, a dose of nature and the opportunity to enjoy the ever-changing face of the Fraser.

The business park redevelopment helps bring the trail closer to New Westminster, too.

LEFT: The trail along Fraser Foreshore Park in Burnaby takes you under a trestle bridge.

Head in that direction and poke your head behind some of the businesses along that stretch of river, and you’ll find several sections of built-up trail ready to link up when the opportunity arises.

These connections are a key focus of a project called Experience The Fraser (ETF). The project brings together Metro Vancouver, the province, cities and multiple stakeholder groups to coordinate development of trail links along the Fraser from Hope to the ocean.

The original plan only looked at the South Arm of the Fraser, considered the main stem. Recently, though, ETF began work on a plan for the North Arm—which links New West, Burnaby, Richmond and Vancouver.

In coming months, city councils in the respective cities will review the plan.

 

Meantime, though, cities are already at work building the river trail connections.

LEFT: Quietly, behind a few businesses in the Big Bend industrial area, new stretches of trail are being prepared. They're isolated today, but one day could be linked to the rest of the riverfront system.

In New Westminster, a major win in recent years was the reclamation of a former industrial brownfield along the river just steps from Columbia Street. Today, Westminster Pier Park pushes the river trail within steps of the Pattullo Bridge and offers a stunning destination for walkers, runners and cyclists, encouraging them to extend their walk along the New West boardwalk all the further.

The park offers stunning views of the river and three bridges that are milestones in B.C.’s transportation history: the 1904 rail bridge, the 1937 Pattullo Bridge and the 1990 SkyTrain SkyBridge.

What the park has also done, though, is given people an appetite for more.

Only about 600 metres upstream is another long stretch of waterfront path called Sapperton Landing Park.

The City of New West owns a fair bit of land en route, but it will be expensive to buld the trail through that narrow section.

LEFT: A major obstacle to linking waterfront trail in New West and Burnaby is the Southern Railway of BC property at the foot of the Queensborough Bridge. Some creative options, such as a cantilevered boardwalk over the river, would be costly. Using the utility right-of-way (at left) would likely have safety/liability challenges.

As wonderful as it is to follow the river as you walk, run or cycle, there are still sections of trail in New West and Burnaby that won’t be secured for many years.

But it’s worth remembering how far we’ve come.

In Burnaby, it was only in 1999 that Commonwealth Construction donated its property at the foot of Tillicum Street to the City of Burnaby, adding a large section of riverfront trail, as well as a fishing pier.

And in New West until the 1980s, the entire Quayside boardwalk was industrial.

Today it’s a glorious public amenity.

Getting one, continuous trail link all along the Fraser River may take decades, but each new piece is worth celebrating.

• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.

 

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