Guest Post by Jocie Brooks
This week I put on my gumboots and headed into the heart of Merville, British Columbia to explore Tsolum Spirit Regional Park. It’s a nice place to take a leisurely stroll (the trail isn’t too long, so no need to rush) and enjoy the fall colours as well as a viewpoint overlooking the river. The first section follows the straight path of the historic Comox Logging Railway Grade, which continues further south along the One Spot Trail. Today, red alder, bigleaf maple and black cottonwood rise up on either side, and at this time of year the trail is covered in leaf litter; brown and green alders, rusty maples and yellow spade-shaped cottonwoods. Stumps that are remnants of old logging days are crowned with salal and red huckleberry.
A small bridge crosses a stream and I stopped to look at some small, metallic-blue beetles on the cottonwood leaves. Further along, a well-camouflaged Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas) did a still-life pose on a maple leaf. Young toads can look a bit like frogs, but can be easily identified by a thin white line running the length of the back and warty bumps on the skin.
The trail extends to a memorial bench overlooking a ravine with a glade of sword ferns, or curves to the right in a section marked the “Hans Jorgensen” trail. Down a slope and past an outhouse, the trail leads through a mixed forest of Douglas-fir, grand fir and western hemlock and opens into the main river viewpoint and picnic area. It is a quiet, reflective spot at this time of year, with pretty fall colours all around and the smell of mortality- decaying salmon! Upstream is the confluence of Dove Creek and the Tsolum River. Steep gravelly-clay banks line the opposite side of the river.
By the picnic area there is a cluster of Pacific yew trees. These less-common conifers can be identified by their scraggly appearance, flat leaves, and red, berry-like arils (seeds).
On the way back we flushed a few Pacific wrens and listened to the high-pitched peeping of tiny kinglets way up in the firs. A Red Squirrel ran across the path and we had to slalom around several banana slugs that were obviously in their element in this damp, humus-rich forest. Wildflowers, such as pink fawn lilies and western trilliums, bloom here in the spring.
From the parking lot, there is also a section of trail on the north side that is a continuation of the railway grade.
Tsolum Spirit Regional Park protects seven acres of land on the Tsolum floodplain and provides 550 metres of trail. A sign at the park’s entrance explains how previous area C director Harold Macy, in 1992, inspired a keen group of children, parents, and teachers of the former Tsolum Elementary School to undertake a project to develop the paths, bridge, outhouse and picnic site. The park was also renamed from “Two Beer and a Pizza Park” (the approximate cost to area C taxpayers at the time the park was purchased) to the more elegantly titled “Tsolum Spirit Park.” The sign pays homage to numerous community groups and local businesses that made donations to the park, in what was truly a community effort.
To get to Tsolum Spirit Park turn west off of the Old Island Highway at Smith Rd. by NIDES (formerly Tsolum School). Follow Smith Rd, which turns into Tsolum River Rd. after crossing Headquarters. Continue on Tsolum River Rd. for about four kilometres. A colourful sign marks the first park entrance, followed by the main entrance and a small parking lot. The multi-use trails are open to walking, biking and horseback riding.