Sunnyside Acres Heritage Society president Ron Meadley places branches across an unsanctioned forest trail. (Below) Lumber believed destined for some sort of construction in the forest was discovered – and removed – last month.

Sunnyside urban forest under attack from visitors

Stewards of South Surrey forest aim to discourage unsanctioned activities, including construction.

Chunks of concrete, chesterfields and construction material are not what most people expect to find when they wander through Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest.

But it’s exactly the kind of thing those who steward the protected, second-growth forest say they come across routinely – and with the hot, dry weather of late, they’re worried the activities the illegal dumping represents, such as campfires and smoking, could seriously damage the 130-hectare park.

“Our objective is basically to discourage anyone from being in the forest in an unsanctioned condition,” Ron Meadley, president of the Sunnyside Acres Heritage Society, said last week during a walk through the trails.

Meadley walks through and cycles around the urban forest in South Surrey on an almost-daily basis, watching for signs that people have wandered – or cycled – off of the well-established paths.

The meanderings damage the understory, disturb wildlife and increase the risk of fire, he said.

While some intrusions are blatant, the extent of others can take a degree of tracking to reveal. Such was the case last week, after a vehicle parked adjacent to the forest in the 2500-block of 144 Street caught the eye of a society director, who alerted Meadley.

Although the vehicle was gone when Meadley got there, he recognized the licence-plate numbers on a vehicle parked in the same location the following evening, and wandered into the forest to investigate further. Hearing voices and noticing signs of a new path – trampled salal (native shrub), and broken ferns and sticks – Meadley called the city’s hotline (604-501-5050) to report his suspicion that something was amiss.

UnsanctionedSoon after, he discovered a cache of construction material that had been carried to the base of a large, four-trunk big leaf maple tree located about 200 feet from the roadway.

One board was affixed to the tree with two long, large screws; several others – two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, plywood and more – lay atop the understory.

Meadley figures the material was dumped about a week prior, for use in some form of construction within the forest. As with all other things illegally placed in Sunnyside Acres, “we took it out right away,” he said.

Meadley said the immediate action – which has been needed “a fair amount” in the past four years – is hoped to raise awareness of the fact that there are many eyes keeping tabs on the forest, and prompt those considering leaving their own impression to think twice.

“That message is extremely important,” he said.

He encouraged others who enjoy the forest to do their part to curb problems by reporting suspicious behaviours and findings.

“That would be a big help,” he said. “If they see the same thing several times and there’s no neighbours in the immediate area, that’s a clue.”

Reporting fire hazards is something else that must be done without delay, he said, pointing to the 604-501-5050 hotline that’s on signage throughout the park.

Smoking materials pose a particular risk, especially during the current heat wave, and a fire would start easily, spread quickly and “wipe the whole thing out,” Meadley said. It could also threaten nearby homes, many of which have cedar-shingle roofing.

Meadley acknowledged that many of the deleterious activities in the forest are not recognized by those responsible for them as a problem.

At the same time, the future of the forest is in their hands as much as it is in those of the stewards.

“It’s the people that make or break what’s going to happen here,” Meadley said.

For more information on the forest, or to learn more about getting involved as an observer – or on the board; the society is also looking for a treasurer – visit sunnysideacres.ca

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