Morrison Creek headwaters are unique on Vancouver Island

Morrison Creek headwaters are unique on Vancouver Island

Morrison Creek Streamkeepers President Jan Gemmell tells her latest tour group about the property owner’s, the late Beecher Linton, favorite spot. Gallery below. George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Jim Palmer and Jan Gemmell, along with David Stapley, guided nearly a dozen people Nov. 24 through the first, small portion of the Morrison Creek headwaters that the Comox Valley Lands Trust intends to purchase and preserve.

The tour was the latest of many that the Morrison Creek Stream Keepers have conducted on the 55 acre property owned by the late Beecher Linton since the 1960s, located to the south of Lake Trail Road and just north of the Inland Highway.

The Lands Trust identified the Morrison headwaters among the top three properties in the Comox Valley to acquire and conserve because of its high biodiversity values and its crucial role in sustaining water quality and quantity in the rest of the watershed. Other streams and creeks near the urbanized areas of the Valley have been developed to various degrees, compromising their ability to support robust fish and wildlife populations and sustain stream flow and water quality.

“It’s highly unusual to have have an intact headwaters on Vancouver Island,” Jim Palmer said. “And even more odd that it’s entirely spring-fed.”

The springs are seepage from the deep groundwater flows of Comox and Maple lakes that become a multitude of open tributaries at the base of an escarpment just below Bevan Road. Together, they become Morrison Creek, which empties into the Puntledge River.


“It’s a wilderness oasis unaffected by human disturbances”


Stapley told the tour group that about 88 percent of $870,000 acquisition cost for the Linton property has been raised. But the CVLT wants to acquire and conserve the entire watershed, which measures about 600 acres and is owned by the Hancock Timber Resource Group. The whole watershed is roughly the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

A 24-acre parcel of the watershed has already been preserved by the BC Government and known as the Beecher Linton Conservation Area.

Jim Palmer, currently vice-president of the Morrison Creek Stream Keepers and a member for more than 20 years, said the 55-acre Linton site not only includes some of the many tributaries that comprise Morrison Creek, but it’s also the location of the historical Leung family farm. During the early 1900s, the Leungs supplied the main agricultural products that sustained the early settlers of Cumberland and Courtenay.

It’s also the site of the Gwilt logging company that operated a sawmill on the property, which burned down in the early 1920s, and the China Trail, a wagon road that linked the Leung farm with the growing communities.

Palmer, Gemmell and Stapley pointed out numerous coho salmon making their way up the creek, a long journey from the Strait of Georgia and the Puntledge River and turning up Morrison just below the Puntledge rapids. The headwaters regularly has coho and pink salmon, while chum and trout stay in its lower reaches.

FURTHER INFORMATION: To support the Morrison Creek acquisition and additional information, click here

Jan Gemmell, president of the Morrison Creek Stream Keepers, pointed out that the creek is also home to the Morrison Creek lamprey, a unique variation of the common Western Brook Lamprey found on the coast. It is only found in Morrison Creek. It is distinguished by being polymorphic, meaning both parasitic and non-parasitic. Male Morrison lampreys make their nests by carry pebbles in their mouths, one at a time, and shaking their bodies to create indentation in the stream bed.

Because the creek is completely natural, Palmer said it looks “untidy,” with logs and rocks strewn about that have created miniature dams and reservoirs. But Palmer said these unruly natural formations actually play a major role in the creek’s health.

As the stream carries sediment down, gravel builds up behind the log jams while deep pools are created by cascading water in front of them. Both serve a function for fish to navigate up stream.

Different fish prefer different types of stream beds, from coarse to fine. And the interplay between the type of stream bed and the current determines the speed of the water at any given time, creating a variety of micro-habitats. And the wood in the water indirectly serves as a breeding ground for aquatic invertebrates, the flies that fish love to feast on.

The importance of the whole Morrison headwaters extends beyond the creek itself and its tributaries. It’s a vast, bio-diverse and thriving ecosystem of swamps, marshes and beaver ponds. “It’s a wilderness oasis unaffected by human disturbances,” Palmer said.

The Comox Valley Lands Trust has until March 31 or next year to raise the final $100,000.

“But don’t let that stop you from donating right now,” Stapley said, because the Lands Trust needs to have additional funds to launch the coming campaign to protect the entire Morrison Creek watershed.

Morrison Creek Stream Keepers have taken more than 130 people on tours of the Morrison Creek headwaters in groups ranging from one to a dozen. At times they have taken three tours in a single week. The longest lasting tour took five hours and covered most of the property.

 

 

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Mount Washington hopes to open Dec. 7

Mount Washington hopes to open Dec. 7

File photo by George Le Masurier

Mount Washington will open on Dec. 7, although snowfall has been light so far this fall.
By George Le Masurier

Mount Washington expects to open on Dec. 7 … if the weather cooperates. The first big storm of the season arrived on the Vancouver Island east coast Sunday night, Nov. 25, although it brought mostly high winds and little precipitation. 

The ski hill received an initial heavy snowfall late last week, but it did not continue over the weekend. And Environment Canada isn’t predicting any more snow in the next few days. The mountain’s website is currently reporting 4 cm of snow in the last 48 hours, but a 0cm base. Temperatures have been relatively mild this November.

The Environment Canada forecast for this week shows light rain showers but no snow at Mount Washington. But the forecast also shows temperatures steadily dropping throughout the week, which could turn that drizzle into snow.

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New Comox Council will protect Shakesides from leaky roof

New Comox Council will protect Shakesides from leaky roof

File photo by George Le Masurier

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has waited 20 months for Comox to respond to their request to protect Shakesides from a leaky roof and causing further water damage. The new Town Council answered at its very first meeting
By George Le Masurier

For nearly two years, the former Comox mayor and council ignored requests by the Mack Laing Heritage Society to tarp the roof of famed naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home to prevent further water damage.

But just weeks after being elected, a new mayor and council voted unanimously to cover the roof, following another request from the Heritage Society.

A large chestnut tree near Shakesides — the name Laing gave his home on Comox Bay — has rubbed off some of the roof’s shakes during high winds, causing leaks.

MLHS President J-Kris Nielsen first made the request at a Committee of the Whole meeting on March 22, 2017. He followed that up with an April 17 letter to the town detailing a work plan and itemized material costs totalling $1,892.80. The letter was officially stamped “Received” on April 20, 2017.

But the town never responded to Nielsen, even after follow-up enquiries.

Nielsen sent a new proposal on Oct. 28, a week after this fall’s municipal elections “to stop the ongoing deterioration of the structure, Shakesides.” This one made it to the council table.

New Councillor Alex Bissinger said covering the leaky roof was an urgent issue, and asked if town staff could do the work more quickly than hiring an outside contractor. New Mayor Russ Arnott said he thought the work could be done in two weeks with an outside contractor.

Nielsen’s proposal to council also included an invitation “for negotiations between the Town of Comox and MLHS to reach an agreement (on the future of Shakesides) for the benefit of all ratepayers.”

The town petitioned the BC Supreme Court in February of 2017 to vary the terms of its trust agreement with Hamilton Mack Laing, which made the town the trustees of his house and property, with conditions. The town cited sections of the BC Community Charter for its petition.

The MLHS opposed altering the trust and applied for intervenor status in the court action. Since then, the town has engaged in a year-long expensive legal battle to prevent the heritage society from presenting its more than 400 pages of evidence to the court, without the petition yet being heard.

Although the court has now allowed the society to present its evidence, if the case goes to trial, Nielsen said the MLHS hopes to work out a solution with the town and “never go back to court.”
Council members were also presented with an MLHS business plan for restoring Shakesides as a nature house as Mack Laing specified in the 1973 indenture with the Town of Comox.

Councillor Bissinger suggested postponing a vote on meeting with the MLHS until after Christmas, and have the MLHS present their plan to council. New Councillor Pat McKenna asked if deferring to February would be okay with the court. Mayor Arnott said he thought it would.

Supreme Court Justice Douglas W. Thompson gave the town until Nov. 30 to respond to the business plan and another new affidavit, which has been extended to Jan. 16. That date that can be amended again by mutual consent.

Town Council voted to defer the society’s invitation to meet until February, when all council members would be in town.

Gordon Olsen, a leading advocate for honoring the terms of Laing’s vision for his home, recently spoke at the 2018 annual meeting of the BC Heritage and Cultural Professions about the Laing issue. His presentation was titled, “Making or breaking heritage — The legal battle for interpreting the true vision of Mack Laing’s trust in Comox.”

Olsen praised the new Town Council for addressing the issue, and said he was hopeful that meaningful conversations could now occur.

Jim Boulter contributed to the reporting of this story.

 

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George Le Masurier photo

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