It rained last night and the ground around Maple Creek is soft.
We’ve just walked from Chine Avenue, past big trucks, light industry and fencing topped with razor wire. After 20 paces that world disappears behind pine trees.
Footsteps are muffled and the wind drifts through the woods with the leisurely pace of an aesthete in an art gallery.
It would be serene if not for the very angry bird screaming the avian equivalent of bloody murder from the treetops.
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There are at least eight herons nesting near the creek, explains longtime Maple Creek Watershed Streamkeepers Society volunteer Jeff Rudd. Heron chicks hatched just a few weeks ago.
“Now would be prime picking for the eagles,” Rudd says.
A bald eagle swoops away and a team of crows pursue like he owes them something shiny.
The scream is louder now; a roaring caterwaul with seeming echoes of the Jurassic.
“It’s prehistoric,” Rudd marvels.
Presumably wary of osprey helicopter parents, the eagle takes off.
Now it’s time to walk the creek.
Joining Rudd is Sandy Budd. She’s the president of the Maple Creek streamkeepers.
“Only because I’m generally the loudest,” she says. There are chuckles at this but no objections.
Originally from Sointula, Budd had a front row seat to debates over fish farms and the risk of disease spreading through the wild salmon population.
“Fish farms destroyed the whole commercial fishing industry,” she says, listing friends and family members who faced professional ruin.
Budd stops short of describing the creek as a holy place, but, after being grazed with bird poop, she announces: “I just got blessed.”
Rudd is pensive and observant with a camera always at the ready. He surveys the creek every day, spotting fry as they dash from shadows through pools of sunshine.
Sometimes he notices something subtle, an accumulation of silt or foam washed down from one of the myriad storm drains connecting to the creek.
Maple Creek starts along Ozada Avenue and runs parallel with Kingsway Avenue for a stretch.
The 3.6 kilometre-waterway winds through from Ozada Avenue and runs parallel with Kingsway before nudging across the municipal border into Coquitlam.
“There are places where it flows through beautiful forests and there’s places where it’s flowing in a ditch,” Rudd says. Budd agrees.
“That’s our law firm: Budd and Rudd,” says society secretary Connie Boulos.
Boulos tends the creek daily with a glove on one hand and a walking pole equipped with a bear bell in the other. Quiet, funny and conscientious, she fills a bag half full of litter in a little more than an hour, scooping up a spent cigarette pack and a rusted Makita tool kit in her morning tour.
Boulos’ condo used to overlook a pond, giving her a view of animals stopping in like regulars at a neighbourhood bar.
“They filled it in. It made me mad,” she says.
From that origin story, Boulos began volunteering as a streamkeeper, a post she’s kept for 23 years. In her daily walks she’s come across toilets, pipe bombs, a jeep in a pond and, perhaps the ultimate indicator of how long she’s been at it, a telephone booth.
All three carry the same message. It’s the message Linda Loman carried in Death of a Salesman. Attention must be paid.
Chill out. Lick a slug
The streamkeepers remember every hardship that befell the creek.
Budd talks about dumped paint cans that put a sheen over nearby eggs, coating and killing them.
Rudd talks about the time a pipe was stuffed with rocks, causing a pond to dry up and 4,000 fish to be lost.
Boulos, who always seems to lighten the mood, talks about slugs.
“We’re full of useless knowledge, us streamkeepers,” Boulos says. “Did you know . . . that if you lick a slug it’ll freeze your mouth?”
Rudd informs me that, as new guy, it’s my turn to lick the slug. We each laugh, one more nervously than the other.
The path narrows and the knotweed thickens.
“It can be used in muffins, knotweed crumble,” Budd says, noting the knotweed is also known as “donkey rhubarb.”
She has one more piece of trivia she’ll impart later.
Rudd hikes down a hill and points out where, through a partnership with Lafarge, they put in fresh spawning gravel and woody debris to give young fish a hiding chance against predators.
Rudd points out a gate that shuts when the Coquitlam River rises.
“They actually pump the water over the dyke,” he says, pointing to pumps, pipes and hoses. “The fish naturally get picked up by the pumps and blown over into this fence.”
“Their need to go back to the stream where they were spawned is so strong that they will jump through this pipe,” Budd says.
They’ve been asking for a new fish friendly pump for years, Budd says.
As we cross the dyke, Budd notes a rusted grate by the side of the trail. It was meant to keep fish from getting sucked into the pump, Rudd explains.
It’s frustrating, Budd explains, to see assets not being treated like assets.
“It’s going to cost the community, it’s going to cost the city, it’s going to cost us all in the end,” Budd says.
Paying the cost
In 2009, Port Coquitlam approved funding for the Maple Creek Integrated Watershed Management Plan. In 2010, Port Coquitlam started working on that plan. They were almost finished in 2011.
In 2012, the project was put on hold for eight years.
In 2021 the plan was completed and, last April, council voted unanimously to approve an $11.5 million project aimed at installing a higher capacity pump station, managing rainwater with greener infrastructure and removing “high priority fish obstructions” while upgrading the culvert.
Scheduled to be enacted over five to 10 years, the plan is, in part, meant to address the creek’s water quality.
Fecal coliform and metals in the lower watershed have resulted in “relatively poor watershed health,” according to a city staff report.
“But despite that, the resiliency of the keystone species . . . speaks a lot about the ability of nature to rebound,” noted Coun. Laura Dupont, referring to the creek’s six salmon and trout species.
Coun. Darrell Penner suggested the city owed a debt of gratitude to the streamkeepers.
“If it wasn’t for the Maple Creek Streamkeepers that we wouldn’t be close to where the health of that creek is now, even though it’s not great,” Penner said. “It looks like an industrial dump site that’s somewhat functional.”
Penner also discussed the fence on the side of the trail.
“That needs to get fixed like today,” he said.
On a Tuesday morning three weeks later, the fence is dotted with more gaps than an old-time hockey player’s grin.
A current affair
Morning conversation follows the bends of the creek. Boulos, Budd and Rudd talk development, local politics, poverty, housing, bears and bureaucracy. But really there’s only one topic: the creek.
There’s a small homeless camp on the other side of the water.
Some camps have been on the Maple Creek banks for five years, Rudd says.
While he has worries about waste and garbage leaching into the creek, he says he tends to give the camps a wide berth, understanding they’re only there because they have no other place to go.
A tributary of the Coquitlam River, the creek just about ran dry when a subdivision went in, Rudd recalls.
That cut off the headwaters and subsequently installed a well.
“Most of the water’s actually well water.”
An accumulation of iron precipitates has strained the well and compromised its function recently, according to Port Coquitlam city staff.
“It’s actually a very productive watercourse,” Rudd says. “Not just for fish but for all kinds of creatures.”
Besides coho, cutthroat and rainbow trout, the banks have seen otter, mink, coyotes, racoon and bear in the area.
Boulos also reports a beaver that steals fish gravel for dams.
“We have characters in our watershed,” Budd notes.
Most streamkeepers are on fixed incomes and have been at the job for years, according to Budd.
“We are the keepers of the stream and we have been for decades,” Budd says.
There’s always a push to allow development that imposes on the creek, she continues.
“We always push back.”
One of the major concerns at the moment is who will push back in the years to come.
“We do have a problem trying to get new volunteers,” Budd says.
Walking the creek, it sometimes seems like nothing much changes. But, just about 24 hours later and 11 kilometres north of where we’re standing, something is about to happen that hadn’t occurred in 115 years.
Rattle and chum
It’s like Uber for salmon.
They come off the Coquitlam River, up the tributary, toward the dam and into a trap. From that trap, 62 coho were plucked, dropped in tanks, stacked on trucks and chauffeured above the dam to Cedar Creek.
Craig Orr, an environmental advisor with Kwikwetlem First Nation, remembers thinking the chances of spawning were pretty good, but maybe not great.
“Fish are stressed when you move them and transplant them,” he notes.
“Everyone was hopeful but until you actually see the results you’re kind of thinking: ‘Well, was that effort worth it?’”
There was also the factor that coho haven’t spawned since before the candy apple was invented.
But on Wednesday morning, fisheries biologist James Macnair sent a photo of a coho fry in Cedar Creek.
“It’s the first evidence that they’ve spawned and incubated successfully above the dam in 115 years,” Orr says.
There are about a dozen of them, all of which will likely spend a year or more in freshwater.
“We’ll see if they actually come down through the dam,” Orr says. “See if they can get a bit of a self-sustaining population.”
In 2006, the Coquitlam River, with its “excessive sedimentation,” low flows and high temperatures, was named B.C.’s sixth most endangered river by the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.
Since then there’s been a boost in water flow that’s meant “significant increases” in steelhead, chum and coho, Orr says.
Simply put: “More water has produced more fish.”
On May 10, counters noted 110 juvenile sockeye, a significant improvement from previous years, Orr says.
Orr attributes the boost to maintenance work at Buntzen Tunnel. With no water flowing off the Coquitlam River, there’s no wayward flows “to confuse sockeye,” he says.
“Even though they’ve been landlocked for well over 100 years they retain the anadromous genes,” he says, describing the inborn impulse to go to sea and return.
The current plan is to add something like a fish ladder that can boost the fish over the dam.
“Kwikwetlem First Nation and others are going to be negotiating with B.C. Hydro on putting those structures in.”
After years of working on the river with the Kwikwetlem First Nation as well as the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Orr is delighted to see coho fry in the creek.
“The success of having them spawn after 115 years is pretty cool.”
Kickstart my heart
An osprey is overhead at Maple Creek again, its neck switching between question mark and exclamation mark as it peers out of its nest.
“I could stand here all day watching,” Boulos says.
“I could, quite easily,” Rudd nods.
After a reminder about the Salmon Enhancement Program workshop at the end of the month, we say our goodbyes.
Before I go, Budd says one more thing. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a bit of trivia, like the frosty effects of a licked slug, or if it’s a miniature parable about the resilience of nature.
Budd says: “If you catch a salmon soon enough after they’ve spawned out, you can restart their heart.”