Let one of the locals show you around the best urban park in the world. Enjoy Nature and Ecology in Vancouver: Stanley Park.
I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia seven years ago, and in a stroke of good fortune found an apartment just a stone’s throw from Stanley Park. Now, I am a prairie boy, and the idea of living where I could hear waves crashing struck me as impossibly romantic. Seven years later, I still step out my front door in the morning, look out at the rugged Stanley Park shoreline, and whisper to myself, “I can’t believe I live here.”
Stanley Park is a local gem, a national treasure, and a magnet for tourists from all over the world. When Lord Stanley set it aside in 1888 for “the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colours, creeds, and customs, for all time”, he had no idea just how badly we would need it. 125 years later, nature deficit disorder is a chronic societal illness, and indulging the simplest pleasure of feeling grass between your toes is a challenge for millions of urbanites packed into concrete habitats around the world.
But thanks to Lord Stanley’s vision, I was able to leave my apartment this morning and, within minutes, watch a pair of bald eagles feasting on a duck on Lost Lagoon, while a quartet of river otters dove and frolicked not two metres away. It’s no wonder it was named the best park in the world by Trip Advisor last year.
The sea wall is perhaps Stanley Park’s most beloved asset. Nine kilometres of wide, paved pathways are enjoyed by eight million people a year who stroll (or cycle) past rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, towering primal forests, and a functional military cannon.
The sea wall rocks. I don’t know any other way to say it. To walk it on a Sunday afternoon in spring, after months of grey winter skies, is to touch on the sublime. I love it even when it’s busy—and it does get very busy—for its endless diversity of happy humanity. Sometimes, you can pass hundreds of people without hearing a single word of English spoken. Immigrants and long-time residents, young and old, gay and straight, families and lovers… everyone relaxes on the sea wall.
Here’s a tip from a local: you need to walk it (or jog it, if you’re up for the challenge) at sunrise. Oystercatchers and harbour seals will be your spirit guides as you round Ferguson Point, breathe the moist Pacific air and suddenly forget you’re in Canada’s third-biggest city. Just do it.
And if you have time, step off the paved seawall onto one of Stanley Park’s many, many forest trails. This is the real Stanley Park, if you ask me. The coastal temperate rainforest is silent, lush, deep, and immensely comforting. Some of these trees, these western red cedars and hemlocks, are hundreds of years old and mind-bogglingly tall.
When you hear the thrushes and the owls call, with not another human in sight, it feels like a true wilderness experience. But this wilderness is actually a carefully-managed forest, and requires a fair bit of active work to maintain its natural charm. The Stanley Park Ecology Society works hard to maintain the park’s wetlands and sensitive natural areas; I have been a volunteer with them for four years.
If you’re looking for a great way to spend an afternoon in Stanley Park, head to the amazing Vancouver Aquarium. Get up close and personal with Steller sea lions, or gently caress a giant green anemone. The Aquarium is one of Vancouver’s main attractions, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to get there early in the day to take it all in before the big crowds get there. It really is worth a visit.
So next time you’re visiting my city, come spend an afternoon in Stanley Park. I can almost guarantee you will come away relaxed, refreshed, and connected with all things vital. It’s what Lord Stanley would have wanted.
Don Enright’s passion for travel and wildlife has led him through an unforgettable twenty-five-year career as a professional naturalist, photographer and writer. Don’s recent adventures have led him through the wild coasts of Vancouver Island and Alaska, the fjords of Patagonia, and the coastlines of northern Europe. Don has a particular interest in the wildlife of the West Coast that he calls home. Follow his adventures on www.donenright.com
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