Conservancy celebrates four years at Blackburn Lake

Wetlands restoration project ongoing

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In the past four years, the land around Blackburn Lake has transformed from a manicured golf course into a growing wetlands nature reserve.

Since acquiring the property in 2013, the Salt Spring Island Conservancy has been working to put approximately 110 acres of Cusheon Lake watershed land into conservation.

“The wetlands were the key priority in terms of restoration, particularly those around the lake,” said Christine Torgrimson, executive director of the conservancy, during a recent public tour of the site. “It’s always been our hope that by restoring more of those wetter areas and removing some of the old drainage lines that we would increase water quality by creating wetter areas to  filter out residue that comes from erosion on the land.”

In 1881, the land was used for farming. For approximately 100 years, potatoes grew in the fields around the lake. In the 1990s, the land was turned into a golf course and became one of the most disturbed places on the island. After financial issues caused the course to shut down, and due to the fact that all densities had been stripped off the land, it came into the possession of the conservancy in 2013. The restoration project began in 2014 with a focus on restoring the wetland and removing the golf infrastructure.

Around 70 per cent of the water that ends up in Cusheon Lake has to go through the Blackburn Lake wetland, according to the 2007 Cusheon Lake Watershed Management Plan. Part of the conservation work has been to restore the natural filtration that occurs in wetlands, and to reduce the amount of sediment that ends up in the lake.

During its time as a golf course, most of that water ran underground through plastic pipes and drainage systems.The drainage material was removed by digging through the old fairways with heavy machinery. Old slopes had to be re-contoured, and boulders and logs were added to the area to help rebuild the wetland.

“They altered the drainage of the land so that it would function as a golf course, but that may not be the best thing for the lake or the watershed,” Torgrimson said. “Some of the work in this process would be to reclaim the greens, as well as to create wetlands and to remove all drainage systems.”

Walkers can still see the remnants of the old golf course. The Hole #2 sign still hangs above a bench along the trail, with a par of 4 on a 216-yard fairway. The hole is nowhere to be seen, however, except for the barren area that was once a green. Not many plants grow on the old golf greens, and the line between fairway and green is marked by an abrupt change in plant life.

While conservation work is primarily undertaken to restore the natural state of the land, determining where to draw that line can be difficult.

“A lot of the planet has been changed by human beings over centuries. I’m not sure that we’re ever going to return everything to what it originally was,” Torgrimson said. “We’re just going to do our best to embellish the wildlife habitat, support good water quality and have a nature reserve that we can cost-effectively manage over the long term.”

Since the work began, the conservancy has noticed an increase in the biodiversity around the wetland.

“It’s typical for areas near water bodies and with wetlands to be higher areas of more dense biodiversity,” Torgrimson said. “In fact, we know that the red-legged frogs are coming over into the wetlands. We also think that there are more bat species in the area. As the vegetation grows up there are more spaces for bird habitat, for nest- ing, perching and feeding.”

While restoration work is never finished, Torgrimson sees a few more projects in the short-term future. Some bridges need to be restored on the property, and this summer’s drought has had a drastic effect on the cedar trees.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the conservancy is invited to call the office at 250-538-0318 to discuss upcoming opportunities.

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