An initiative by Project Watershed to increase salmon survival in Simms Millennium Park will result in closures to the treed area and trail on the west side of the park for several days in July, and for the entire month of August.
Preparations will begin from July 5 to 7 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily, with some site clearing, salvaging of native plants, and fish relocation. Starting July 31, the west side of the park will be closed while crews begin installing two new culverts in the channel in the park. The area will remain fully closed until the project is completed at the end of August.
Jennifer Sutherst, Project Watershed’s estuary coordinator and staff biologist, said Simms Park is a key fish habitat area. “Many local residents that use the park may not realize that it provides habitat for fish”, advised Sutherst. “In fact it’s one of only three areas of off-channel habitat along the Courtenay River where young fish can rear.”
The Simms side channel is used by species such as Coho salmon, however it is not functioning as well as it could be. In order to access the pond habitat, fish must pass through a long culvert which is perched high and only flows when the river and/or tide is high, thereby limiting access. In addition, the pond is a dead-end with no connection back to the river. Fish that access the pond habitat are often trapped, and in the summer the water becomes stagnant due to limited circulation.
Project Watershed has secured funding to remove the current culvert and replace it with a larger, more “fish friendly” one installed at a lower elevation. The inner pond will be re-contoured and deepened in a couple of areas. Another culvert will be installed on the opposite side of the pond to connect it to the Courtenay Slough, which connects back to the Courtenay River. This will create a true flow-through channel, and should improve habitat quality as well as opportunities for juvenile fish rearing and foraging. In addition, Project Watershed hopes the channel improvements will allow more salmon to escape predation from seals.
As part of the project, invasive plants in the area will be removed. Some Alder trees will need to be removed for machine access, and will be replaced with native conifers.
The Rotary Pavilion, BBQ area, washrooms, and trail behind the pavilion will remain accessible. There will be construction noise caused by the project, as well as temporary impacts to parking.
Dan Bowen, Project Watershed’s technical director, said that while crews will do their best to limit disruption to park visitors, some impacts will be unavoidable. “Project Watershed recognizes that this construction project, in Simms Park during the summer, is an inconvenience to the public,” he noted. “We hope that everyone will have patience with us as we work to improve this local community asset for fish and wildlife.”
Project Watershed staff will be on site to direct pedestrians and provide information on the project.
To learn more about the project or to volunteer:
Funding for the project has been provided by Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP), Recreational Fisheries Conservation Program (RFCPP), and Habitat Conservation Trust Fund (HCTF). The City of Courtenay is providing in kind support for the project.