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Cash flows to wild urban stream thanks to local community

A community group is rushing in to save one of the last two wild streams in urban Vancouver. Still Creek,…

By ztennant , in Environment , on October 22, 2012

Renfrew Ravine from above (Photo: City of Vancouver)

A community group is rushing in to save one of the last two wild streams in urban Vancouver.

Still Creek, which runs through east Vancouver’s Renfrew Ravine yards away from heavy traffic, has been a habitat for discarded shopping carts and plastic bags.

But that’s changing as the Still Moon Arts Society, a community group that has been working to clean up the stream for almost a decade, has finally received financial support to study the ravine’s original ecology in order to augment those efforts.

“Renfrew Ravine is this remnant wilderness in the heart of Vancouver. Most streams are lost. They’re gone. And this one still flows,” said society founder and artist Carmen Rosen.

With $30,000 from Vancity Community Foundation and Vancouver Foundation, the society is launching the Still Creek stewardship project, which will be led by an ecologist in partnership with the local community to help restore the stream to its natural form.

“We do all these ravine clean-ups and we do all this native planting and sometimes they take and sometimes they don’t,” said Rosen. “But we don’t know from a scientific basis if we’re actually doing the best possible thing for the ravine.”

Carmen Rosen, founder of Still Moon Arts Society, stands next to Renfrew Ravine

Still Creek and Musqueam Creek are the only remaining streams that flow partially above ground in urban Vancouver. The Renfrew Ravine is the only portion of Still Creek in the city that has not been paved over.

An important part of the Brunette River system, Still Creek feeds the Fraser River and eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean.

“The stewardship project is important for educational reasons. But also the stewardship project re-engages urban dwellers with natural systems,” said Rosen.

The project will address animal and fish habitat, creek access, invasive plant species, slope stability, and flooding.

Still Moon will work closely with an ecologist and the SFU Centre for Sustainable Community Development to research the natural character of the creek, identify rehabilitation needs and guide restoration work. Students from nearby Windermere Secondary School will get ecological training and will do water sampling in the ravine every month.

The project is meant to be a model for urban ravine restoration across the country, said Emily Beam, Vancity manager of strategic programs.

“We’re sort of providing the initial seed for something that could be much bigger.”

The course of Still Creek

The Still Creek headwaters are near Metrotown. From there, the stream flows west through pipes beneath city streets and houses until it surfaces in the Renfrew Ravine near the 29th Avenue SkyTrain station. The creek then runs above ground from 29th Avenue to 22nd Avenue before returning underground and eventually emptying into Burnaby Lake.

Still Creek in Renfrew Ravine, a stone’s throw away from a busy intersection

The pattern of piping and paving over creeks that took hold in Vancouver in the early 1900s drastically altered Still Creek.

Terry Tayler, Still Moon Arts Society president, said plans to pave over the Renfrew Ravine were halted after the Second World War.

“After the war, they just got busy doing other things and they never got around to the stream.”

While the ravine is no longer home to the original bears, cougars and deer, it is inhabited today by many other species, including raccoons, possums, skunks and coyotes.

“We call it ‘the jewel in the city,’” said Tayler.

Babbling into the future

Vancouver city workers have been unearthing piped sections of Still Creek for nearly 10 years, but the Renfrew Ravine portion has continued to babble patiently while awaiting a plan.

Dovetailing with the Still Moon Arts Society’s stewardship project, the Vancouver park board recently announced that a master plan to rehabilitate Renfrew Ravine, with a budget of $50,000, will begin this fall.