10/24/2009

Royal Roads, Colwood, B.C. - An Urban Ancient Forest

I have passed by the fat, ancient, and soaring hulks of the Douglas fir trees on the Royal Roads lands at the top of Lagoon Road many times. I overlooked the area, even though I have been aware of it's ecological significance for some time. Perhaps this is because the Royal Roads old growth forest is located in Colwood, an urban area west of Victoria. On one side of the street are large houses, big screen TVs, and hot and cold running water. On the other side, a wild remnant of a forest landscape that has been 99% consumed in only 200 years time.


One rainy day I stopped by to explore this island of ancient wonders. I passed through the gate, swung it closed on creaking hinges, and left suburbia behind. It was a time machine. A few steps down a wide path and I was surrounded, immersed in a land little changed over thousands of years. The car exhaust lingering in my nostrils faded away as I walked under the massive canopies of Douglas fir, Spruce and Hemlock. Thick trunks shot up all around and the sun beamed shafts of light through the mist. It smelled richly of growth and decay. A slug slowly slid across the trail and left its own glistening path.

The 650 acre Royal Roads property (and adjoining DND lands) has one of the last remaining undisturbed old growth Garry Oak/Coastal Douglas-fir habitats on south Vancouver Island. The site has a history of human settlement dating back thousands of years. The Straits Salish people, the Songhees, had a settlement at Esquimalt Lagoon, and evidence such as shell midens by the lagoon, and culturally modified trees in the forest, are a testament to early occupation. They have outstanding land claims to the area to this day.



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Royal Roads University is the current occupant of the site. There are two manicured gardens and a historical building on site as well. But the old growth forest of Royal Roads is by far the most significant aspect of the entire area. Such forests are rare in this undisturbed state, and in this size, anywhere. Never mind driving out to Cathedral Grove. Here you will find trees that are among the top 10 largest in the province. Trees that are many hundreds of years old. The Sitka spruce growing here represent the farthest eastern limit of their habitat on Vancouver Island.


There is pressure to develop this land. Some though, recognizing this ecological jewel, propose protection. Royal Roads and the DND lands are already public meaning that we would not need to buy the land in order to protect it for future generations. What a legacy a park would make. Some are calling it a potential 'Stanley Park' for Victoria and region.

Often old growth forest is synomonous with wilderness, but not in the case of Royal Roads/DND lands. This is one ancient forest you can get to on a city bus. There is access off Sooke Road and at Lagoon Rd. and Heatherbell. There is a small spot to park on the side of Heatherbell. Across the street you will see a gate in the chain link fence. Pass through and leave the city behind.

Don't let the Royal Roads urban location fool you. It's wild in there. Can we make sure it stays that way?


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10/11/09

    Indeed a sweet ass site and weird that it has been protected by the uber rich and the military. There is hope, always

    ReplyDelete

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