Eco-tourism project links Mission to other river communities

The meandering shores of the Fraser River could become a jewel for the Fraser Valley, much like the Seawall is for Vancouver.

This according to Lorne Mayencourt, director of outreach for the BC Liberal rural caucus, a group of MLAs touring the province to listen to community groups.

The rural caucus stopped in Mission last Thursday to take in the Experience the Fraser (ETF) project, an eco-tourism initiative designed to bring riverside communities together. The newest ETF demonstration project is a trail corridor linking Historic Fort Langley to the Golden Ears Bridge through Derby Reach Regional Park.

The first project, Spirit Square, was completed last May at Jack Poole Harbourside Park in Mission. As well, an interpretive centre was opened nearby on Aug. 1, 2011 to provide more information to visitors.

Kicked off in April, 2009 with a $2.5 million grant from the province, ETF is a provincial collaboration with Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley Regional District, and river municipalities.

The primary goal of ETF is to run a network of trails from Hope to the Salish Sea, with interpretive centres, camping, guided tours, fishing and other tourism opportunities along the way.

The district’s director of planning, Sharon Fletcher, said Mission’s involvement in ETF dovetails nicely with their own plans for waterfront revitalization.

Fletcher envisions running trails east and west along the Fraser River and south over the river to Matsqui Trail Regional Park and the TransCanada Trail by cantilevering a pedestrian walkway on the CP Railway bridge.

Michelle Favero, manager at Mission’s Chamber of Commerce, said ETF has the support of local businesses.

“The river is one of the primary attractions to Mission,” she said to members of the rural caucus during a public meeting.

Part of the challenge ahead will be negotiating with waterfront landowners, farmers and industry to gain access to build trails linking ETF together. For instance, the district would have to discuss access points with CP Rail, who control much of the statutory right-of-way for waterfront near the harbour.

Another problem is providing a safe pedestrian pathway from downtown to Spirit Square, as this is presently accessible only by car.

Part of the ETF trail could traverse floodplain, such as the area by Mission Raceway Park, which Fletcher said would be allowed to flood during high water season so as to avoid costly diking.

Council will wait for a land use plan on waterfront development from district staff, and can then coordinate with the FVRD on future ETF trails.

According to literature provided by ETF organizers, planning should be complete by October, with implementation of new projects along the river commencing in early 2012.