Heron reserve celebrates 10 years on Saturday

The Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve has seen 18,000 visitors at the Rotary Interpretive Centre in the decade since it first opened.

The Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve has gone from a military training site to a prized ecological reserve.

The Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve has gone from a military training site to a prized ecological reserve.

It’s one of the top tourist attractions in Chilliwack, which may be a little-known fact for some.

The Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve has seen a whopping 18,000 visitors come through the doors of the Rotary Interpretive Centre in the decade since it first opened.

“But still it’s never crowded,” says Janet Hutchinson, programs and services coordinator at the GBHNR. “It is always peaceful when people are out walking the trails.”

The undiked floodplain was transformed from a former military training site into prime wetland habitat in the years following the closure of CFB Chilliwack.

“It’s been good for Chilliwack,” Hutchinson says. “Many visitors have found us online and then decided to stop in when they’re in the area.”

People come to the nature reserve from all over the world to marvel at the unique park, with a total of 168 active nests this spring. A volunteer counts the number of active heron nests every year.

The chicks recently hatched and will go from chick size to full grown very quickly.

“It’s like an airport around here with herons coming and going.”

Nesting season begins in March and goes to mid July at the reserve on on Sumas Prairie Road.

“But the site is about more than just herons,” Hutchinson says. “Although they are an incredible sight.”

In fact there are several species at risk known to be in the area, from painted turtles, Salish suckers or Oregon forest snails, to other creatures like otters and muskrats. There’s about 100 species of birds that drop in or make their home there.

It’s in a vibrant nature corridor that allows these beautiful species to survive.

There were only about 50 herons nests originally, when it was a “wet bridging” training site for military engineers.

But they’ve thrived and the population has grown over the years. The site offers education and conservation projects, as well as an observation tower and bird blinds.

Many locals don’t realize that the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve Society is a not-for-profit organization, she says. The nature reserve was created in 2002 as a City of Chilliwack park, for which the society is a partner through a management agreement.

The Rotary Interpretive Centre was presented to the city by the Rotary Club of Chilliwack in March 2002 and the official opening was held in May 2002.

They’ll officially unveil a new tower trail at 1 p.m., along with offering a guided walk.

A community art project will see 100 small canvases painted by fans of the nature reserve and will be put together later like a quilt.

“It’s for people to express what they feel about the heron reserve, and we’re hoping it’s something we can keep to mark the occasion.”

More details on the website at

chilliwackblueheron.com.

The 10th Anniversary Open House is May 12 at GBHNR starting at 10 a.m. with a guided heron walk, then the anniversary ceremony and reception at 11 a.m.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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