Get up close and personal with a Vancouver Island salmon run

To witness birdlife and the salmon cycle at close quarters, you can't beat Goldstream Provincial Park

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VICTORIA, BC Aug 12, 2015/ Troy Media/ – B.C. is home to one of nature’s wonders, the salmon spawning cycle, and Victoria arguably has the most accessible venue in the province.

For two months every autumn visitors to Goldstream Provincial Park can observe the spawning run of thousands of chum salmon. This little roadside park along Vancouver Island’s Malahat Highway offers a world-class spawning stream for several Pacific salmon varieties, but especially chum.

There are several rivers and streams in British Columbia renowned for their salmon spawning runs. Sightseers can watch salmon jumping cataracts at Stamp River near Port Alberni or encounter black bears on the Nimpkish River near Port McNeill. In the interior, there is the famous Adams River near Shuswap with its own Salmon Society. It advertises that you can see thousands of Chinook and sockeye salmon and actually attracts over 100,000 visitors each year who attend the three-week long ‘Salute’.

But if you would like to get a glimpse of nature without too much hassle, to witness birdlife and the salmon cycle at close quarters, and to have your spiritual side stimulated, you can’t beat Goldstream.

The Goldstream Provincial Park and the Salmon Run day-use park is approximately 15 kilometres north of Victoria’s downtown, going north and east off No. 1 highway. The best approach is to drive north to Finlayson Arm Rd. where there is a right turn-off for parking off the highway and not far from the river’s edge. The tall, leafy old growth temperate woods mute the hum of the highway and the shelter of Mt. Finlayson encloses the visitor in a virtual corridor. You actually feel protected and enveloped as you begin to watch nature’s cyclical ritual along the river every November and December. Take the pathway from the car to the river, less than 10 metres wide at that point. It is only a few minutes’ walk away and soon you will be looking out towards the struggling salmon and pointing at their occasional thrashing in the water.

bc salmon runIt is important to remember the salmon are returning to their birth waters to spawn and die. There is an awed hushed atmosphere among the people watching. It is not always a pretty sight but one feels humbled to witness the salmons’ vital impulses for regeneration. Goldstream River can look clogged sometimes with the number of exhausted and egg-dropping salmon and with gulls pecking for roe.

There is an excellent Information Centre, named after Freeman King, a respected Victoria-area naturalist, along The Visitor Centre Trail, which follows the river for about 1/2 kilometre before it opens up to the marshy estuary and an observation deck. The Centre and interpretive signs along the way help visitors to make sense of it all. Diagrams depict the salmon life cycle from freshwater fry to saltwater-adapting smolt, to adults maturing for a few years in the ocean until returning to natal streams.

The salmon run attracts other wildlife species that feed on the returning salmon. In fact, almost 25 years ago park management declared the estuary to be a Quiet Zone closed off to hikers and kayakers. The result has been an increase in the number of black bears and eagles. Now, there is even something called the Bald Eagle Extravaganza since the eagles feeding on the chum carcasses have increased from 12 to over 200.

While the screaming gulls may seem to be scavenging vandals, it is important to realize that the end of the salmons’ journey is as much about death as it is about life; about sustenance as well as birth. There is an aboriginal belief that as long as the eagle hovers overhead there will be harmony and balance and the land will be protected. The salmon of Goldstream have attracted the eagle back in numbers and watching the two species’ interaction makes one think about sacrifice and sharing.

Trying to better understand nature is what the vision of naturalist Freeman King and visiting Goldstream Provincial Park is all about. This salmon run venue just beyond an urban setting is unique. If you want to witness nature’s wonder amid smaller crowds of like-minded people and to be close up to the salmons’ odyssey, then Goldstream is a privilege to behold.

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