Sunday, 25 May 2014

Outerbridge Park

Parking, Wheelchair accessible trails
Dogs: on leash 

The first thing thay hits you when you get out of your car in the parking lot at Outerbridge Park on a late May day, is the smell of cottonwoods! That sweet smell that fills the air along with the fluff from the cottonwood seeds.

Outerbridge Park is one of Saanich's more recent park acquisitions, having been deeded to the municipality in 2005, and is a sanctuary of quiet serenity steps away from one of suburban Victoria's busier arterial roadways.  The park is approximately 3.8 hectares in size, with a main entrance off of Royal Oak Drive, and a secondary entrance off Blenkinsop Road.

The history

Joan Outerbridge began creating a bird sanctuary about 20 years ago, and we first encountered the property when my daughter Nicole was riding, and took over a "freelease" of a thoroughbred who was living in the barn on the Outerbridge Property (those of you with horse experience know I use the word "free" somewhat liberally ;)).

At that time, the area where the barn stands had some paddocks for the horses, but was well and truly fenced and gated off from the rest of the property - ostensibly to keep the deer out! The gate between the two sections of the property was only opened on those occasions when the gardeners helping Mrs. Outerbridge with the property came to fetch barrow-loads of composted horse manure.  All we knew at that time was that Mrs. Outerbridge was creating a bird sanctuary by buying up parcels of adjoining land as they came available, and was crazy about maintaining the flora to support bird habitat.  We were told leaving the gate open was a grave offense indeed!

Since those years it has been wonderful to see this little oasis turned into parkland accessible to the community at large.  The cultivated areas of the garden are being restored and enhanced through a contract with the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, and with each year, the gardens become a little more complete.  What has been especially fantastic about this space, is that Joan Outerbridge was able to see much of this progress.  She passed away a few months ago (February 2014), leaving a legion of people whose lives she touched through this little park.

Park highlights

Within the park, there is a figure 8 pathway that is wheelchair accessible through the more formal plantings, with a water feature, a small bridge over the pond, and some more formally planted beds. Towards the eastern side of the park, the landscape becomes more naturalized, with cottonwood trees, fir and some meadow that is being replanted with Garry Oak and Camas. Nesting boxes for birds are strategically placed throughout the park, and even on a rainy day, there are plenty of birds to see and hear.

The old barn structure still stands in the same location, but has been refurbished on the inside as a space for volunteers who help maintain the gardens.  The pathways continue through to the barn, but become a little steeper and rougher towards the Blenkinsop end of the park.

Dogs are welcome (on leash, and please pick up after them!), and on most days, you are likely to encounter a few other people taking a break and soaking in a little serenity.

(map location is approximate, there is clear signage to the parking lot and entrance)
Saanich Parks info for Outerbridge Park
Gardens at HCP, Outerbridge Park Memorial Walk

All images © 2014 Janice Mansfield

Sunday, 18 May 2014

McMinn Park

Parking, Wheelchair Accessible trails
Dogs: on leash

I'm beginning with this little park because in the most literal sense, it all goes back to the beginning for me.  McMinn Park is one of Saanich's newer parks, and sits on the site of the former McMinn Riding Stables - literally right next door to where I grew up!

I grew up here in Victoria, BC in Cordova Bay - not quite at the dawn of time, but yes, harking back to a time when Cordova Bay was considered "the sticks".  With only a handful of buses coming through each day, if you didn't have a car, you were pretty much stuck there.

I grew in up a time when kids went free-range before it was a "thing", so it didn't really occur to us until we neared our teen years that we were isolated. Much of our days were spent in nearby fields generally mucking around, foraging for berries or stealing apples, or down on the beach prying oysters from the rocks at low-tide.

The history

 The subdivision we moved into in Cordova Bay was built on former raspberry farms, and was still surrounded by agricultural enterprises such as the original Firbank and Galey farms, and the McMinn riding stable right next door! There were fields with goats, a substantial amount of undeveloped trail (and by trail, I mean the re-wilded CNPR railway right-of-way, complete with decomposing railway ties).  I can remember "training" for a hike on the West Coast trail by hiking with a backpack filled with books through that stretch of trail where the horses would peek through the fence and the trees to see what was going on.

McMinn Stables provided riding lessons and boarding services, and was a fixture right beside our house at the end of Maxine Lane. The original entrance along with the McMinn residence and barns, off Symphony at the end of Maxine Lane, have long since been removed and replaced with subdivision, but the bulk of the property, including the area with the large riding ring (now meadow), was purchased by Saanich in the early 1990's to preserve as parkland.

Park highlights

This little park has a great mix of recreational space and natural habitat.  On a sunny day, as you walk through the forested areas, you can hear an abundance of birds chirping in the trees, and there are frogs in the stream areas.  It contains play structures on a sand surface, and 2 fully fenced tennis courts, and a portion of the meadow area is regularly mowed for impromptu soccer games, BUT the bulk of the park is minimally maintained (meaning there will be flowering grasses in late spring/early summer for those of you with allergies).

One of the original planted sequioas remains on the property in the middle of the open meadow area and while I can't be sure, I would hazard a guess may have come from the old Layritz nursery, which supplied many of the larger gardens in Greater Victoria with their tree seedlings, back in the day.

Beyond the meadow area, there is a fairly wide range of native species, many of which can be seen through as you meander through the trails in the forested areas of the park.  I noted Douglas fir, Grand Fir, Hemlock, Bigleaf Maple, Western Red Cedar and Alder trees, and a variety of edibles shrubs such as Elderberry, Thimbleberry, Oregon Grape, Chokecherry, and much more.

The trail circuit within the park itself, opens out to several spots in the neighbourhood, and you will regularly see local residents walking as families through the park. This park is also well connected to the Lochside Regional Trail system which is easy going on bike or foot.

Getting here

This is not the easiest park to get to if you were not familiar with it.  If you have cycled down Lochside Drive/Trail, you have gone right by it, and if you are going by car there is an entrance right off Lochside, although there are limited places to park.  The main entrance off Maplegrove, is just one turn off off Sunnygrove Terrace, a 5 minute walk from the bus stop on Cordova Bay Road (#32 for those of you travelling by bus).

Next time you are out in the Cordova Bay area, or cycling down Lochside, take a moment to stop in the park! It has great nostalgic value for me, given the original stables were right next door growing up.  Sentimental value aside, I think its a great example of the direction the municipality of Saanich is taking with its parks and greenspace policies.


Saanich parks info for McMinn Park
Lochside Regional Trail (official guide)

All images © 2014 Janice Mansfield