Goldstream Provincial Park In Winter A Photographer’s Delight

Goldstream River
Goldstream River

This past Saturday I did something I haven’t done in a very long time. I decided to walk along the lower stretch of the Goldstream River. I normally avoid visiting this area of Goldstream Provincial Park. The constant din of traffic rushing back and forth on the highway just a stone’s throw away intrudes too deeply on the otherwise peaceful setting. But for some reason, the noise didn’t get to me this time. Instead, I found myself entranced by the photographic opportunities that presented themselves at every turn in the trail.

Close Up of Riffle in Goldstream River
Close Up of Riffle in Goldstream River
Annual Fall Salmon Run

Goldstream Provincial Park straddles the Trans-Canada Highway #1 just before it begins the climb up and over Malahat Summit. This location puts it only 16 kms northwest of Victoria. Each October, the day use parking lot and trails overflow with visitors. They line the river’s edge to watch one of the region’s natural spectacles: the annual run of returning Chum salmon. As many as 30,000 salmon return each year, making the Goldstream a world-class salmon spawning stream.

Fish Skeleton
Fish Skeleton on Pebbles

Being well into winter, the Goldstream River spilled over its banks in many places, swollen by frequent periods of rain. I didn’t see many remains of the last fall’s salmon run. Perhaps much had been swept down stream and into the estuary.

American Dipper
An American Dipper Hunts in the Shallows of Goldstream River
Why do American Dippers Dip?

While photographing a section of the river, an American Dipper flew from the other side and landed a few metres in front of me. Even if I hadn’t recognized what it was by colour and markings, there was no mistaking two distinctive behaviours. It constantly bobs up and down or what some call dipping. Hence, the name of the bird. As to why American Dippers dip repeatedly, no one knows for certain. It could be an advantage in hunting for its prey, typically aquatic insects. Or, it could be a form of communication. The other unique adaptation is this bird’s ability to swim under water, even in swift and turbulent currents.

While observing the American Dipper at close range was a highlight, the real show-stoppers lay everywhere around me.

Use without Abuse?

The 2017 BC Provincial Park statistics haven’t been released yet; however, if the trend of the past few years holds, around 100,000 people will have visited Goldstream Provincial Park in the past year. That’s a lot of people for such a small park, especially given their use is concentrated on three areas: day use, public campground and the group campground. Of the three areas, the first suffered the most from the concentrated use, especially it’s trees.

Fortunately, BC Parks has wakened to the damage being done to tree roots. Fences, yellow ribbon and signs have been put in place to encourage visitors to stay on trails and to let degraded areas recover.

As I left the park, I felt very grateful for what I had experienced. For the past 2.5 hours, I had been almost completely absorbed in the beauty of the place. So much so, that I hadn’t really noticed how hard it was raining or how loud the traffic was. Pure magic it was.


Water, Water, Water, Everywhere

small stream with ferns and moss
Bilston Creek, Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park

Water, water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink. These were the words of the protagonist in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Here on the West Coast of Canada, we are blessed with an abundance of water that comes every year as rain and snow. But unlike the Ancient Mariner, most of us living along BC’s ragged coastline have access to sufficient supplies of drinkable water. I acknowledge that this is often not the case among First Nations communities.

Water is essential to all life on the planet. There is no substitute for water fit to drink. It cannot be replaced.

Witty's Lagoon
Witty’s Lagoon
Messing with the Water Cycle

Yet, our species acts as if blind to these simple facts of life. We’re messing around with the hydrological cycle on a scale that’s very likely unprecedented in the Earth’s history.

Take the Canadian prairies as an example. Marshes and other wetlands have vanished at an astonishing rate to be replaced by crops. While this practice has enhanced private gain, it comes at a high cost to the public. Wetland drainage, along with climate change, has been linked to overland flooding and degraded water quality.

Here’s a 15 minute documentary I produced on this issue.

Wetlands Matter from Rick Searle on Vimeo.

Canadian Attitudes About Water

Last March, the Royal Bank of Canada released it’s 10th annual report on what Canadians think, feel and act in regard to water. The accompanying press release bears the title and subtitle that give a strong clue to what their study discovered. “The story that has emerged is both complex and enlightening,” RBC says. ” On one hand, it confirms how much Canadians value our water and how integral our lakes and rivers are to our national identity; on the other, it reveals a troubling carelessness with a resource Canadians still consider unlimited in its abundance.”

Maple leaves and stream
Bigleaf maple at Bilston Creek, Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park

More worrisome, the research revealed “startling contradictions between what Canadians know to be true about the impact of climate change on water, and what they continue to believe about Canada’s water wealth.” The press release for the study lists these examples:

  • For the 10th year in a row, Canadians named water our most valuable natural resource. Yet we remain world-class water wasters and report taking fewer actions to conserve water last year than we did in 2008.
  • Canadians are more convinced about the risks to our water quality and supply than they were a decade ago, yet confidence in our ability to meet long-term water needs remains unchanged (at 84 per cent).
  • Canadians feel more personally at risk when it comes to droughts and floods than in the past. However, one-in-four Canadians think climate change will have no impact on our fresh water. Even with considerable efforts to raise climate change awareness, this is a higher number today than it was in 2009.”
Maple leaves and stream
Maple leaves and ferns, Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park
Explaining the Contradictions

How to explain these contradictions? The RBC turned to my friend and colleague, Robert Sandford, for possible answers. Sanford possesses considerable expertise in this area, a fact validated by his appointment as the EPCOR Chair for Water Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health. Sandford thinks denial may be at work since it appears difficult for Canadians to reconcile the long-standing belief in the abundance of water with the reality of its degradation both in terms of quality and quantity.

“Second, while Canadians treasure our water, we have little appreciation for what it is worth and how valuable it is to our economy and economic competitiveness,” he’s quoted as saying in the press release. “We don’t pay the real costs of the water we use—neither the costs necessary to transport and treat it, nor the environmental costs of wasting it. As a result, we’ve come to believe that water is cheap. There’s no incentive to use less of it.”

Seeking Solutions
Young maple in streambed
Young bigleaf maple at the edge of Bilston Creek, Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park

So what’s the solution? What needs to be done to have Canadians become much better stewards of freshwater? RBC offers these recommendations:

  • Better communicate the value of water to our economy. Governments and business are encouraged to understand and transparently communicate the value of water to our economies and bottom-lines. Canada has made significant progress putting climate change in an economic context. We must now do the same for water.
  • Focus on implementing the solutions in front of us. Existing knowledge and technology could take us much of the way toward becoming a more water resilient and therefore more sustainable country. The report shows high support for government investment in areas like better water infrastructure, for example. This is something we can start doing today.
  • Show global leadership. Canada has the opportunity to seize our deep connection to fresh water and translate this into global leadership in water stewardship.

These are good recommendations as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough. They leave out what Canadians can do as individuals or as communities.

Leaves and stream
Bilston Creek, Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park

To learn the value of water, not just to the economy, but to life itself, I recommend taking a mindful hike in a local natural area where water runs freely. Some of my fondest times doing this have taken place during the muted stillness of a winter rain. I come away refreshed to the core of my being every time.

I firmly believe that if more Canadians experienced water in this deep-rooted way, the contradictions would soon disappear.

If you’d like to experience and learn about water in this way, please get in touch with me. I’d be delighted to introduce you to the watery world of winter on Canada’s West Coast.