Just off Lougheed Highway, not far from Lake City Way, there's a small, nameless city park undergoing a major transformation. On an overcast Friday morning, a noisy backhoe claws through a clearing in the woods, leaving the scent of fresh earth in the cold, damp air. There's a murky pond filling with ground water, chunks of slate-grey clay piled on the banks and an eight-foot mound of tree stumps.
Burnaby resident Nick Kvenich has a vision for the landscape before him.
"Once it starts to grow in, it's going to be a vibrant area to support salmon fry, amphibians, insects," he says.
Kvenich, dressed in gumboots and an Australian bushman's hat, is part of the Eagle Creek Streamkeepers, a volunteer group dedicated to returning Eagle Creek to its natural salmon-bearing state.
Their latest project, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Metro Vancouver, is to create a salmonrearing pond.
"It's a shelter for salmon fry, giving them the best opportunity to survive," Kvenich says.
Eagle Creek has headwaters near Burnaby Mountain and winds south through a culvert below the Kinder Morgan tank farm, through the Burnaby Mountain Golf Course and beneath Broadway, then Lougheed, before draining into Burnaby Lake. From there, it's a short swim for salmon to reach the Brunette River on the east end, where salmon navigate the relatively new fish ladder at the Cariboo Dam. Then, roughly five kilometers down river, the Brunette empties into the Fraser, which leads to the open ocean.
The furthest salmon have made it upstream in recent memory is across the road from the new rearing pond on the south side of Lougheed, but Kvenich is hoping they'll use the shelter. The ultimate goal is to get the salmon as close to Broadway as possible, where Kvenich would like to see a fish ladder installed. The rearing pond is off to the side of the creek and measures roughly 100 metres in length. There's a little waterway under construction for fish to get in and out, and the stumps provide shelter for them to hide from predatory kingfishers and herons.
Pond construction started July 25 and wrapped up two days later. The Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Croatian Fish and Game Club provided nearly just over $10,000 in funding, while Fisheries and Oceans donated in-kind labour, and there were hundreds of hours behind the scenes sorting through red tape.
Metro Vancouver and Fisheries and Oceans Canada have been helping with the project, offering advice and handling the heavy construction. Jonathan Bulcock oversees the construction end of the project on behalf on Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
"This is critical off channel habitat for coho rearing," he says at the site.
The streamkeepers will volunteer their time planting native flora around the pond.
"This was a 10-year dream to get this in," Kvenich says.
The creek's already come a long way since the streamkeepers formed about 15 years ago.
"As far as we were concerned, it was a dead creek. We didn't see any salmon," Kvenich says. They started by clearing trash along the stream, which people used as a dumping ground and still do to some extent.
(They found mattresses, dishes, cellphones, VCRs, grass clippings, TVs. "We got enough stuff to furnish a house, and to add to that, a box of hollow point bullets," Kvenich says.) The members heard decades-old stories from residents who used to spot salmon and go fishing in Eagle Creek. After five years of cleaning, the group saw returning salmon, between 20 and 40 every year. Volunteers removed obstacles in the waterway, and the last two years have seen record numbers of salmon, upwards of 160, returning via the fish ladder at Cariboo Dam.
Now, Eagle Creek is a habitat for pink salmon, coho, chum, cutthroat trout, stickleback, crayfish and the occasional lamprey. The damp air is teeming with fat, juicy mosquitoes that fish like to feed on - a healthy sign of a robust ecosystem.
Like other local streamkeeping groups, Eagle Creek holds an annual salmon release event, where the community is invited to let 50,000 chum fry loose to help repopulate the waters.
Scientists don't fully understand the remarkable migration salmon make to spawn once they've reached sexual maturity. One hypothesis is that they use their sharp sense of smell to find their birthwaters. Kvenich and the streamkeepers plan to release future fry in the rearing pond in hopes they "imprint" high up the creek and find their way home.
Without a shelter, the salmon would flap continuously in the strong, rushing current, Kvenich says.
"In an environment like this, they don't have to do that. They fatten up and get stronger. I guess being in the creek with no shelter - it's a tough life," he says.
Kvenich hopes the pond makes that journey all the easier.