5/27/2012

French Beach Park: Future Old Growth Forest

Old cedar stump along French Beach trail

Early History

Adventurer James French knew the country of Canada better than most. In the late 1800s he took two years to walk across the vast land mass between the Atlantic Ocean at New Brunswick, and the Pacific Ocean surrounding Vancouver Island.

After all the beauty he had seen of the country, and Vancouver Island, in 1885 he decided to settle among the big trees of the primeval forest on a 59 hectare waterfront property 25 kilometers west of Sooke.

French's pre-empted property was enjoyed by his family after his death in 1952. The family was active in local logging up to 1974 when the land was donated to make a park.

Protected Second Growth Forest 
Ensures Old Growth For The Future

Today the property is a protected  and healthy second growth forest of Western hemlock, Western red cedar, Douglas-fir, and Sitka spruce.

The forest at French Beach is no longer populated by the giant first growth trees (although a few survive) that grew here when James French first arrived, although the odd stump attests to the fact that they were once here.

However, this is a great place to see how the forest regenerates over time. Although French's land has been logged, there are some nice medium-sized second growth trees that will one day attain the lofty status of their predecessors.

In another 200 years the forest will have regained its old growth status.

Sitka Spruce Dominate The Park

Stunted, weather-beaten spruce fringe trees are genetically identical
 to the taller Sitka spruce in the park
Fronting the beach are pure stands of the salt-tolerant Sitka spruce, one of the only conifers that can survive the harsh conditions along the beach. The Sitka spruce in the park vary from lofty, soaring tall trees to the krummholz (literally 'crooked wood') of the wind and sand scoured spruce fringe.

Big stumps are not the only evidence of the big trees of old. Because the property was logged before heavy-duty industrial logging, much of the original forest profile was preserved, including nurse logs.

In many areas along the park trails through the forest one can make out the remnants of downed giants that are now becoming the forest floor. In many cases the ancient downed trees, that may have been decomposing on the forest floor for hundreds of years, have new trees growing from them. The old nursing and nurturing the new.

Big Beach Trees

Large Sitka spruce along the beach in picnic area
The beach and forest trails are available for both day trips and camping. The picnic areas just behind the beach are good spots to see the twisted trees of the spruce fringe, and the taller spruce behind them.

The campground, and some of the other trails, are good places to see some of the larger trees. Away from the effects of the wind and waves, the tree enthusiast will find nice hemlock, cedar and Douglas-fir.

Today you don't have to walk across the continent to get to French Beach, although it would be worth it if you did. This beautiful day use and campground site is conveniently located on Highway 14, and is a leisurely and enjoyable one hour drive west of Victoria.

Park Map


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