I was in Nanaimo this Friday and decided to take the “scenic route” through the suburbs along Hammond Bay Road when heading back up-Island. This area of Nanaimo is heavily developed, but fortunately there is a small city park that makes the drive worthwhile. Pipers Lagoon Park is about 8 hectares in size and includes some wonderful Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) meadows that should be spectacular in the early spring. You get a hint of the extent of the display later in the year by the carpet of Pacific Sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis) leaves that cover the ground underneath the Garry Oaks and Arbutus trees.
A short dyke leads out to the rocky island that makes up the majority of the park. The exposed beach is a mix of gravel and larger rock closer to the rocky outcrops. The lagoon side is sheltered and, at low tide, rich in Japanese Littleneck Clams (Venerupis phillippinarum) and a variety of snails, shore crabs, and marine worms. The mud and gravel of the lagoon is quite solid and safe for exploration at low tide while wearing rubber boots without fear of becoming stuck. During migration I would expect to see shorebirds feeding in this area if they haven’t been run off by dogs.
The rocky outcrops look very interesting from a botanical perspective and should host a variety of interesting flowers found in Garry Oak ecosystems. Spreading Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) is prolific on the eastern sides of exposed rocky bluffs.
There’s a little bit of scrambling involved to get to the loop trail on the main island but most walkers should have little problem with it. A well established trail follows the shoreline and provides access to many viewpoints over the lagoon and outer coast. At the far end of the park is a great view of the rustic 1930s fishing shacks on Shack Island. The shacks are still used as summer cottages by descendants of the original owners.
Pipers Lagoon is a great place to take a nature break in Nanaimo. It is fairly heavily used so make an effort to visit early in the morning or late afternoon before dinner when there may be less people around. Weekdays are less busy than weekends.
From Hammond Bay Road, turn onto Lagoon Road and then right onto Place Road to the main parking area. There is access at the end of Lagoon Road at low tide but the main parking area is a better bet.