The dark, green ribbons of forest that run through Maple Ridge and break up the urban grid of streets and buildings is a sign that you’re no longer in the Big Smoke.
Beneath those trees are little streams, babbling and trickling their way from mountaintop to the Fraser River, each doing their small part to preserve B.C.’s fish stocks.
While cities to the west paved over their streams, more rural Maple Ridge was the line in the sand that could stop urban encroachment into fish habitat, said Ross Davies with the Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society, now in its 20th year.
“This is where things change,” he said.
“We’re really grateful our greenways, our water ways are really quite protected. We really haven’t lost any streams in Maple Ridge.”
Volunteers, city and provincial governments and organizations such as KEEPS should all be proud of that, he adds.
The society, just known as KEEPS, was formed in December 1998. Since then, the society has helped with habitat monitoring and restoration, GPS mapping, and public education and awareness, such as that gained by hundreds of school kids through the classroom programs offered by the society.
The early days were shoe-string operations as the society raised salmon fry in the old Bell-Irving Hatchery, a former barn that used to house sheep. A new hatchery replaced that in 2013, followed by the opening of the Kanaka Watershed Stewardship Centre in 2017. With solid, weather-proof buildings, classes and visitors can be welcomed no matter what the weather.
John Heaven was one long-serving KEEPS volunteers who ran the hatchery when it opened in 1983, until he handed over the reins in 2007.
“The new visitor centre is a huge bonus,” he said.
“I think it’s absolutely brilliant,” he said of the new buildings.
The centre, on 256th Street, in the middle of the Kanaka Creek Regional Park, includes a multi-purpose George Ross Learning Room, a separate resource building, ‘Roof-to-Creek’ Learning Landscape as well as the hatchery. It’s a joint project between Metro Vancouver parks and the society aimed at getting people involved with nature and conservation.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada has also been a partner for more than 30 years.
In 2013, during the fundraising for the stewardship centre, KEEPS entered the Canada-wide Shell Fueling Change Campaign in an attempt to win the $100,000 which it could apply to the construction costs of the centre. That stewardship centre project earned at least 500,000 votes, 38,000 more than the closest other projects – earning it the cash prize for the centre.
But without the help of the regional government, the society would have floundered, like a fish out of water.
“Without them, there’s no way this ever would have happened. I can’t stress that enough,” Davies said.
He runs the KEEPS school programs, which gets kids out of the classroom and into the forest so they can see firsthand how nature works. “We’re out in the field probably 80 per cent of the time.”
Recently, Davies started offering the program in the new Katzie Early Years Centre, on the Katzie First Nation reserve.
“They have got salmon swimming around in their pre-school right now,” he said.
“We ourselves don’t even know our full capability yet,” said Davies.
Wendy DaDalt, parks area manager with Metro Vancouver, said the hatchery also supplies salmon fry for streams around Metro Vancouver, as far as Spanish Banks.
She said that conservation and fish management is a collaborative process between Metro Vancouver parks and local volunteers. The former often provides the money and the latter the boots on the ground and the local support for regional park plans.
The regional government contributed about $1.7 million to the construction of the new hatchery, and stewardship centre.
“We’ve really appreciate that partnership. We’d love to see more people join it. They could definitely use more members.”
DaDalt agreed that Kanaka Creek Regional Park is one of Metro Vancouver’s flagship operations.
It’s unique in that it follows a watercourse and is integrated into the City of Maple Ridge. Last year, about 440,000 people visited the park, about a 10 per cent increase from the year before.
KEEPs also has been involved with projects farther downstream, such as the enhancement of Spencer Creek as it winds through Albion flats, as well as the fish-friendly gate that allows fish to pass back and forth between Kanaka Creek and Spencer Creek, near Lougheed Highway.
Davies said the awareness of salmon and its presence in Maple Ridge has spread to residents at large. Many watch for the return of spawning salmon in the fall in Kanaka Creek, an event which KEEPS marks with its Return of the Salmon event at the fish fence in Kanaka Creek at 240th Street. Last year, that drew 600 people. “It’s news, the salmon are home. It’s one of the things that defines our community,” Davies said.
“We just have to keep on growing as a society. The sky’s the limit.”