Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary
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Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary is a nature reserve located in Saanich, British Columbia. The sanctuary includes a lake, adjacent marshy lowlands, and a nature centre, as well as a good part of the summit regions of Christmas Hill.
In the 1960s, Swan Lake was a polluted swamp. Fish were dying, and the water was so toxic that farmers were warned to ensure their cattle did not drink from it. In 1963, however, the Municipality of Saanich announced plans to clean up the lake. In 1973, the Municipality purchased 115 acres (0.47 km2) of land covering Swan Lake and Christmas Hill; they would join the two parcels to create a nature sanctuary. In 1973, they bought a further 54 acres (220,000 m2) at a cost of $230,000. It was estimated that the project could take as long as 25 years to finish. In 1975, the nature sanctuary was opened, but it was still far from completion. Between 1975 and 1990, the municipality contributed approximately $1 million to the project. In 1977, work began on additional boardwalks and trails, and in 1979 a wheelchair trail from the nature house to a viewpoint over the lake was completed.
Between 1980 and 1990, neighbours, students, and Saanich residents contributed over 14,000 hours of volunteer work to building the park. In 1981, work on the boardwalks and trails was completed. In 1981, a 7,500-square-foot (700 m2) building was designed to replace the existing nature house facility. In 1984, plans were unveiled to build a 170-metre long chain link fence between local residents' properties and the nature sanctuary (see Fence Controversy section for more details). Also in 1984, a nearby oil spill threatened to escape into the lake (see Oil Spill section for more details). In September 1988, the new nature centre was completed and opened to visitors.
The nature centre was a success, drawing 20,000 visitors in 1990 and 60,000 in 1995. In 1994, work began on a native plant garden, and is ongoing as of 2006.
This period also saw some expansion of the Christmas Hill lands - with the assistance of The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, and a major commitment to trail building on the Hill. Though development pressure keeps encroaching on the hill, it is still a good place to see Red-tailed hawks and, in the summer, turkey vultures, as well as numerous songbirds.
The original facility was opened in 1975 in a house at 3873 Swan Lake Rd. It featured exhibits, maps, charts, photographs, and a telescope, and was staffed five days a week, ten months a year. A naturalist administrator gave slideshows, kept records, did research, and showed movies. On September 18, 1988, the new nature centre opened and, as of 2006, it is still in operation. It contains a library, a bee colony, offices, a classroom, nature exhibits, two snakes, and two turtles. It is open seven days a week, year round.
Boardwalks and trails
The sanctuary has a total of 3.75 km of trails, consisting of 2.5 kilometres of gravel-surfaced loop trail around Swan Lake and 1.25 km in the Christmas Hill portion of the sanctuary. There are two wharves, several wooden bridges, and a boardwalk across one end of the lake.
The wharves and floating boardwalk were built by members of the Canadian Military.
Native plant garden
A native plant garden was completed near the nature house in 1998, after four years of work. The garden houses 70 types of flowers and shrubs, all native to Southern Vancouver Island, and includes stone steps leading up to the nature house, a drip fountain, several benches, and a hidden area with bird feeders. The native plant garden was specially designed to keep the plant species hydrated.
In April 1984, an oil spill occurred near Swan Lake. Approximately 230 litres of furnace oil seeped into nearby storm sewers after a refilling accident. These sewers drain into Swan Lake marsh, but workers were able to limit damage to the sanctuary by soaking up the spill upstream with sponges and bales of hay.
In November 1984, plans were released calling for a 1.5-metre-high, 170-metre-long chain link fence to separate the park from properties on nearby Woodhall Drive. Residents' lawns had been encroaching on park property by up to 11 metres, and an earlier stone wall had been removed. Residents fought strongly against the proposal, citing concerns that the fence would devalue their property and prevent access to the sanctuary. Park administrators pointed out that the fence was necessary not only to protect the park but to protect residents' properties from traffic on a newly built footpath near the park boundary.