As I stroll through the land at A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre in Surrey, I’m dwarfed by a giant fir tree dating back to 1750.
Leaning (way,way) back, I squint skyward, imagining, not only the view from the top, but the history (by man and nature) this statuesque elder green giant has survived.
Through the trees the Tudor-style Brooksdale Guest House overlooks the crystal clear Tatalu, or Little Campbell River, and the lush surroundings. In the distance bullfrogs and birds make their presence known.
Once the home of the original Vancouver owners who used the property for country parties and holidays, it’s now rented out for retreats or overnight stays for groups and individuals.
Nowadays Brooksdale is an environmentally conscious farm featuring a public produce market selling the current field yields. A small gift shop offers an attractive selection of jams and fresh herbs. Various other original buildings, including a large barn, vie for position among assorted towering trees.
Focussing on sustainable agriculture, conservation science, environmental education, hospitality, and site maintenance, internships are offered for applicants over the age of 18. There are also summer camps and other activities – including free croquet at the side of the well-used heritage barn.
There’s no admission charge, so we opted for a freshly made vegetarian pizza baked in the garden cob oven. We also opted for a guided property tour with biologist David Anderson. Anderson is a former pastor and resident centre co-director.
Already aware of City of Surrey planners and council rezoning expansion proposals to pave the way (literally) from the existing Campbell Heights industrial parks, I asked Anderson how such plans would impact Brooksdale and the already fragile river and land ecosystems.
“There are three rivers, and all of them are experiencing pressure and degradation,” he said. “If we don’t protect the salmon and habitat around the Little Campbell River, the wild salmon and other species at risk—like the Salish Sucker which only lives in 10 rivers in the world and is a federally listed species at risk—we will lose them.”
A petition on called “Save Wildlife Habitat in Surrey, BC” on change.org has more than 8,000 signatures of a 10,000-signature goal.
Anderson said “None of the organizations that steward the river believe the river can cope with the massive scale and scope of the industrial proposal. “We don’t think this way because of sentiment, we base this on evidence and decades of restoration work.”
Anderson added they’re happy to see debate amongst the councillors about the land designation proposal.
“At least councillors Locke, Hundial, Pettigrew, and Annis are following through on their stated promise in the last election to support the current Metro Van Urban Containment Boundary (UCB), which stops at 20th Ave.”
Anderson thinks the mayor and other councillors have decided to break their commitment not to extend the UCB, and not to support Metro Van’s Regional Growth Strategy.
“Surrey’s own biodiversity conservation studies show that this area is of top priority for species at risk, biodiversity, intact forest stands, grassland pasture, and a sensitive aquifer fed river.”
Anderson said if the land designation proposal moves ahead, it will go to a Metro Vancouver regional planning committee, then ultimately to the Metro Board for a vote.
“The whole proposal requires Metro Van to agree to extend the Urban Containment Boundary south of 20th into the whole 660 acres. The scale of industry proposed would require sewer and water servicing, which is Metro’s authority.”
Anderson said if the appeals fail and it gets through to Metro, A Rocha Canada will continue operating its heritage site and environmental centre for the good of local communities.
He said there will then be “exponentially larger challenges to the watershed than currently exist … and they are already significant.”
A week after my visit there were two arson attempts on the Broosksdale Farm property. They failed, but security has been beefed up.
Brooksdale is located at 19353-16th Avenue, Surrey. Farm hours, summer camps for children, and other courses are listed on arocha.ca.
If you can, walk through the farm lands, down to the Tatalu and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature and those working to preserve it.
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a Surrey-based journalist and photographer.
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