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Through My Lens: Central Park in Winter

Central Park Ice Rink

The other cool thing about visiting New York City in the winter? All those wonderful outdoor ice rinks.

Like this one in Central Park.

Stanley Park Windstorm

Ten years ago today, a massive windstorm devastated Stanley Park. Hurricane-force winds off English Bay levelled 41 hectares of forest, about 10,000 trees in all, some of which were more than 500 years old. It was the most violent windstorm to hit Stanley Park in 40 years.

Although it was overwhelming to see the devastation, the forest was long overdue for a regeneration. The wide open spaces changed the look of parts of the park and increased the diversity of both plant life and animals. Woodpeckers, for example, are now thriving. More than 15,000 trees and shrubs were planted by park staff and volunteers. I was walking near Prospect Point recently and it struck me how tall those young trees are already.

I was out of town on December 15, 2006, but I remember taking a walk through the park on Christmas Day — as much as it was possible to walk through the park since every trail was blocked by fallen trees — with my mouth open wide in shock. The seawall was also extensively damaged and remained closed for some 18 months until the repairs could be finished and the cliff tops above the seawall stabilized.

This photo is of a tree that came down near the Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park. It lies near where it fell, trimmed of its foliage, and has been left as a memorial to that storm. It is now a popular photo stop for tourists, who I am sure have no idea why it is lying there.

Georgia Street Tree

Missing Stanley

Stanley Park Trees

Oh, who am I kidding?

I’m no suburbanite.

Walking through Deer Lake Park while I’m hanging out in Solo is all well and fine, but I couldn’t wait to get back to my own urban park. (That would be Stanley.) I even felt a pang while crossing the Lion’s Gate Bridge the other day on my way back from snowshoeing with a friend. I looked at the wide expanse of Stanley Park from high above Burrard Inlet and said, “Ohhhh, I miss my park!”

What I like best about “my” park is how I can fit a walk through it in between errands. Like today. I returned some library books, headed over to Lost Lagoon to say hello to the ducks and to check if the river otters were out (they were), walked back along the beach, picked up a few groceries, went to the post office, and then came home.

And what did I see on that walk?

(What didn’t I see?)

Lots and lots of trees. The beach.

Ducks (including mallards, Wood Ducks, American Wigeons, American Coots, Common Mergansers, and Lesser Scaups), Canada Geese, a couple of Spotted Towhees, the above-mentioned river otters, and a raccoon.

And that was a short walk.

Oh. And, um, daffodils.

In full bloom.

Deer Lake Park in Winter

Deer Lake Park Winter 1

So remember when I told you how Deer Lake Park in Burnaby was an all-season park and I intended to go back and explore it some more? Yeah, I know. I forgot too.

Oops.

Deer Lake Park Winter 2

I’m hanging out in Solo again, which means I have no excuse to not get myself back to this park. And so, one afternoon last week when there was fresh snow on the ground, I went for another walk with the friend who introduced me to Deer Lake Park.

It was stunning. I’m rather partial to my own park (that would be the one they call Stanley), but whenever I get a bit uppity about the park in my backyard, something or someone reminds me of how many fabulous parks there are all over Greater Vancouver.

Have a look at what I saw that afternoon.

Nelson Park

Stanley Park gets a lot of attention from Vancouver’s visitors, but it’s not the only park in Vancouver’s West End. One of my favourite parks ― so much so I try to walk through it each and every time I head downtown ― is Nelson Park.

Nelson Park is a small park, but it’s a busy park. Only one city block big, it shares that space with Lord Roberts Annex (a K–3 primary school) and its playground, which takes up about a quarter of the block. Several dozen community garden plots line the park’s walkways and the West End Farmer’s Market is held alongside the park every Saturday from May to October. Because the park is located kitty-corner to St. Paul’s Hospital and across the street from the Dr. Peter Centre (an assisted-living residence for adults living with HIV/AIDS), it’s not unusual to see patients making use of the park on warm, summer days.

But my favourite corner of Nelson Park is the fenced-in off-leash dog park, one of a handful in Vancouver’s West End. Walk past it after work any day of the week to witness Doggy Happy Hour ― complete with wagging tails.

Here is a photo of Nelson Park in all its fall glory.

Nelson Park

A Forest in the City

Stanley Park Forest 1

After I wrote my post about Cathedral Grove, I started thinking about the forest I live next door to. I’m talking about the one in Stanley Park. (You know, the wee park Tripadvisor thinks is # 1 in the world.)

What makes Stanley Park so special is it is as much forest as it is park. I can’t think of another city with a forest in its centre that equals the area of its downtown business core. (If you know of one, please tell me. I would love to visit.)

The peninsula that is Stanley Park has been logged several times, but today it is as dense with trees as it was 150 years ago. There are about half a million of them, ranging in height up to 75 metres.

Truth is, windstorms have done more damage to the trees in Stanley Park than logging. There have been three notable storms: one in 1934, another in 1962, and the one I remember ― the windstorm of December 15, 2006. Winds of 115 kilometres per hour downed over 10,000 trees (total tree area lost was 41 hectares), with most of the damage to the western side of the peninsula, particularly around Prospect Point. I took a long walk through the park on Christmas Day 2006 with my sister and my heart sank when I saw the damage. All of the trails through the park were impassable; fallen trees lay across them like pick-up sticks. Imagine if Stanley Park had been picked up by its four corners, given a good shake, and then set down again. That is what it looked like from the ground.

From the air or the water, it looked like someone had come through the park with a scythe. Many of the trees still lie where they fell. I took this photo sometime during the winter of 2011, more than five years later.

Stanley Park Forest 2

But a few good things came out of that storm. Like a new and much safer parking lot at Prospect Point. There would have been a public outcry had the Park Board decided to cut down trees to make way for a much-needed parking lot, but once the trees were down ― well, there came an opportunity.

I benefitted from that storm, too. Because the seawall was closed for 18 months (so that it could be repaired and the cliffs above the seawall on the western edge of the park stabilized), I spent the summer of 2007 exploring the interior of the park ― something I had never bothered to do until then. Stanley Park’s seawall is so accessible ― and so beautiful ― that visitors to Vancouver (and one local blogger) rarely take the time to explore the interior trails. There are some 27 kilometres of them criss-crossing the park, most of which have their origins as skid roads used to skid out the cut logs. They all have names; one of them is called Cathedral Trail. (Which is why I started thinking of the forest in the city after writing my post about Cathedral Grove.)

A couple of years ago, Vancouver City Council enacted a smoking ban in the city’s parks. For good reason. It has been said that if a fire were to ever get out on control in Stanley Park during one of our hot, dry summers, the forest would be gone in less than an hour.

What a shame that would be.

Stanley Park Forest 3

Through My Lens: La Fontaine

Fontaine de l'Observatoire

Fountains say “summer” to me — even though I took this photo in the dead of winter. This particular fountain is called Fontaine de l’Observatoire. It’s in the Jardin Marco Polo, which is directly south of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.

Through My Lens: Siwash Rock

Big news this week: Tripadvisor named Stanley Park the # 1 park in the world. The world! We beat out both New York’s Central Park and the Luxembourg Gardens of Paris. Not bad, eh?

To celebrate, here’s a photo of Siwash Rock, one of the park’s most photographed attractions. Its Squamish name is Slhx̱i7lsh.

Siwash Rock

Happy Birthday, Stanley Park!

Stanley Park

Stanley Park turns 125 today. The city threw a big party in the park last August to celebrate the occasion, but its actual birthday is today, as it was on September 27, 1888, that the park was first officially opened to the public.

At 1000 acres, Stanley Park is the largest of Vancouver’s parks, and also its most popular. It contains an estimated 500,000 fir, hemlock, and cedar trees, and has three beaches, a lake, a lagoon, an 8.8-km seawall, and many more kilometres of walking trails that meander through its interior.

It’s named after Lord Stanley of Preston, Governor General of Canada from 1888 to 1893.

Gettysburg

Cordori Farm

As I was planning my trip around the Eastern Time Zone last summer, I knew that one of my must-sees was going to be Gettysburg. I’m a history geek, and my pre-trip research quickly led me to the conclusion that it would be worth the drive from Baltimore, where I was planning to spend the better part of a week.

And so, I booked a car rental, enlisted my sister as navigator, and off we went for a drive through the Pennsylvania countryside. Both of us came away rather impressed with what we saw and learned. Since this week was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I thought it would be a timely blog post for the Fourth of July.

There are a number of ways to tour Gettysburg National Military Park. We opted for the Self-Guiding Auto Tour, where you are supplied with a map showing the location of more than a dozen stops throughout the park, each one of which has a viewpoint and a marker explaining its significance. If you lack a capable navigator such as I had, the Visitor Center sells CDs you can pop into your car’s stereo system while you drive, or you can take a guided bus tour.

What you can’t do ― not in an afternoon, that is ― is tour the battlegrounds on foot. At 6000 acres, the park is massive and completely surrounds the town of Gettysburg.

Now, if history isn’t your thing, you should skip on to the photos at the end of this post. But if you want a little background, read on.

In June 1863, General Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. He’d spent most of the month moving his 93,000 soldiers north into Pennsylvania so they’d be in a position to push the Union forces out into the open and into battle. Once he decimated them (so he figured, based on his recent successes), it would bring about the end of the war.

The 75,000-strong Union Army of the Potomac shadowed Lee’s movements, but at a slower pace to make sure they were always in position to protect Washington DC from the Confederate forces. On June 28, 1863, General George G. Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac.

Both generals were angling for a favourable spot for a battle ― what is ironic about when they finally met is that the Confederate Army was moving south and the Union Army was moving north. Neither army was aiming for Gettysburg, either. But when Confederate soldiers chanced upon and were attacked by Union soldiers on July 1 ― an attack the Confederates successfully defended ― Lee realized if he acted fast he could fight the Union forces before they had finished assembling. He decided to use the chance meeting as an excuse to start a major battle.

By the morning of July 2, the Union forces had retreated from the northwest of Gettysburg, where the previous day’s fighting had occurred, to the southwest of Gettysburg. Despite their retreat, their position was good ― they occupied a series of hills and ridges in a semicircular position. The Confederate forces had no choice but to attack from below, which they did at both ends of the Union line. The Confederate forces gained a bit of ground, but losses were high and on the evening of July 2, the Union forces still occupied the high ground.

Because the Union forces had successfully repelled the Confederate attacks at either end of their line, Lee was convinced that Meade had concentrated his forces on his flanks. On July 3, Lee ordered an attack on the centre of the Union line, which he thought would be the weakest point.

The Confederate artillery fired on the Union position for several hours. The Union artillery answered back with its own volley, but eventually went quiet. Lee assumed the Union guns been knocked out. He ordered the advance of some 12,000 Confederate soldiers toward the 7000 waiting Union soldiers. This attack, which came to be known as Pickett’s Charge, required the Confederate forces to march across almost a mile of open ground. While they were in the open, Union artillery ― which had not been destroyed after all ― again took up their firing.

Union losses that day were about 1500 killed or wounded, but the Confederate casualty rate was much higher ― almost 50 percent. Total losses from both armies over the three-day battle was more than 50,000. Lee admitted defeat and began his retreat from Pennsylvania the next day. By the time Meade realized Lee was retreating all the way to Virginia, not merely heading back into the mountains, it was too late for him to catch up.

Most historians consider Gettysburg to be the turning point of the Civil War ― and the battle that saved the Union. Pickett’s Charge is called the High Water Mark of the Confederacy because it was the furthest line of advance made by the Confederate Army, but the Union victory at Gettysburg ensured that Lee’s invasion of the North was over.

If you’re still with me, all I want you to take from what I’ve written above is that it immediately becomes clear as you drive around Gettysburg Park what role the terrain this corner of Pennsylvania played in the outcome of the battle. The establishment of the park in 1895 (initially maintained by the War Department, now by the National Park Service) means that the entire battleground still looks, for the most part, as it did in 1863.

And so, you can see (just barely through the trees) the cupola of the Old Dorm of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, which provided a crucial observation post on the night of June 30 as the Union generals surveyed the landscape and chose where to place their troops. You can stand at the rocky summit of Little Round Top and imagine the fierce battle that took place on its slopes as Confederate soldiers tried to overtake it on July 2. You can survey from various viewpoints the hilly terrain that frames either side of the fields the Confederate soldiers marched across during Pickett’s Charge on the afternoon of July 3. And you can stand where the Confederate soldiers stood, and look across the same fields they looked across, and see the copse of trees where the Union soldiers were waiting for them.

And now, as promised, here is a photo tour of Gettysburg National Military Park. (Click on the first photo at top left to open the slide show.)