Shorter days and colder weather provide opportunities to discover or re-visit some of the area's more accessible outdoor destinations. A sunny forecast and the promise of plenty of wildlife to see led me to join a friend and bike around the Little Qualicum Fish Hatchery, a kilometre West along the gravel of Claymore Road, near Qualicum Beach Middle School.
The gentle slope required for construction of the spawning channels, which provide an optimal flow rate for fish to breed, also gives walkers, bike riders or stroller pushers the chance to enjoy a beautiful, interesting circuit of just under 5km. For anyone choosing to arrive by bike, it should be noted that Claymore Road and the road accessing the parking lot have grades that, although short, are steep enough to require low gears and a controlled pace. Those looking to avoid such exertions can take advantage of ample parking at the hatchery where our circuit is based.
At this time of year, expect to be assailed with the raucous calls of hundreds, possibly thousands, of feeding birds. Seagulls are predominant but eagles, herons and a multitude of smaller species will be taking advantage of the remarkable "circle of life" as salmon spawn, die and integrate into our coastal flora and fauna. The hatchery is part of the Canadian Salmonid Enhancement Program, which was developed in 1979 and includes 18 major government facilities in B.C. dedicated to improving the freshwater survival of salmon and trout. Of these facilities, 7 are on Vancouver Island, with the Big and Little Qualicum Rivers evidencing the richness of our local rivers.
There are a number of information boards, as well as an underground area with viewing windows right on (or sometimes below) the level of the water rushing past in the channel. My preference, especially when coming with children or visitors new to the area, is to get some background about what we will be seeing before heading out in a clockwise direction, following the gravel service road that runs West from the parking lot.
To your right you will see the glassy water flowing smoothly over its bed of rocks, carefully chosen to provide the ideal environment for fish to breed. Soon the road and watercourse diverge as you begin to see the radical meandering required to jam several kilometres of channel into a relatively small area. While your first visit here may lead you to stick to the most direct circuit, it's worth exploring some of the grassy peninsulas, not least for the different perspectives they offers on the trees, waterways and the lay of the land.
While I made reference earlier to the noise, another sense you will by now find in full effect is the sense of smell. While chilly days reduce the odour, there's no way around the fact that thousands of large fish carcasses are decomposing in the water, washing up in the bends of the water or being pulled from the flow by birds and mammals. Occasionally, a live fish will still be seen fighting upstream among the pale, ghostly corpses of its fellows, in a way that seems to poignantly illustrate the creature's impending demise.
After around 2km the gravel road passes through a gate which is usually locked. This is the Northern end of Melrose Road, which emerges around 10km South, on the Alberni Highway, just east of the Whiskey Creek Store.
Our route swings us to the right, where we see the stopcocks that control water entering the hatchery channels. From here, we follow a leaf strewn access road which, while rougher than the gravel road, is a more pleasant, rustic setting for the homeward stretch of our route. The surface makes for easy going if riding a mountain bike, walking, jogging or pushing an off-road stroller. Wheelchair users should be comfortable that they have some off-road capability, and will quickly get an idea of whether they should continue on this rougher road or retrace on the gravel.
The Little Qualicum River now runs to our left while the channels weave back and forth to our right. After few hundred metres a metal bridge on the right offers an attractive vantage point on the water and also serves as a landmark for another feature. Look to the left of the road and a short trail opens out at a pebble beach on the river. I like this little spot as a good place to eat a snack and pause for a few minutes. There is a bench here, in memory of another who has enjoyed this beautiful place. After returning to the road and travelling a few more metres, another bench can be seen overlooking the riverbank.
A few more metres along our grassy avenue between the trees and we come back to our parking lot by skirting around a metal gate. I like to end my mini adventure with a look at the underground viewing windows and a final few moments immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of this valuable facility.
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What to bring:
This is an easy route on prepared surfaces. Check the weather forecast and dress appropriately. Carry a whistle, especially as bears often frequent areas like this. Comfortable sports footwear, suitable for light trails is recommended. A snack and a drink, as well as something to sit on, is a good idea. Carry a small 1st Aid kit and any medication that may be required. Let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return, or leave a route plan on your vehicle.
Laburnum Road runs from Hwy 19 near the Little Qualicum River to Rupert Road . Turn West off Laburnum Road onto Claymore Road and follow for around 1km. Cross bridge then turn right into hatchery. Note - Gate is locked at 4pm.
This article by Michael Addiscott was published in the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, PQBNews.com
. Michael is the manager of Outsider Adventures
, a sports store in Qualicum Beach that has offered clothing, footwear and accessories for travel, sport, and outdoor recreation since 1998.
for more information on cycling in Parksville Qualicum Beach.