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Walking green Vancouver, where the wilderness lies
just minutes from downtown

Nearer to Nature in British Columbia

July 21, 1996|JOHN McKINNEY

VANCOUVER, Canada — It's appeared in your living room a hundred times, but you probably don't know its name.

The many faces of Vancouver can be seen frequently on television. Movie makers have found the city and its environs to be a convincing substitute for a wide range of locales--Hong Kong, Seattle, Middle America, South America, China, Vietnam, the south of France and the American West. "Hollywood North" is now third only to Los Angeles and New York in North American TV and film production.

What is attractive to the filmmaker is equally compelling to the walker. Vancouver's attractions are many and diverse: the city itself spreading over the Burrard Peninsula, its shoreline bordering a Pacific Ocean inlet called the Strait of Georgia, the nearby North Coast Mountains and outlying Fraser Valley farmlands.

"Vancouver is one of the world's best cities for hiking because the wilderness is right in our backyards," says Manfred Schollerman, owner-operator of Rockwood Adventures, a walking-tour company. "A 20-minute walk will take you from city streets into a rain forest with 1,000-year-old trees." Trails weave through an emerald forest of hemlock, red cedar and Douglas fir, over a forest floor of moss, ferns and flowering plants.

From the town's earliest days, Vancouverites vowed to keep their greenery close by. In 1886, the newly incorporated city's first resolution allowed purchase of 1,000 acres of wooded peninsula from the Canadian government. Stanley Park, Canada's largest city park, includes not only cricket pitches and tennis courts but also forests and a rugged coastline.

Although it boasts an urban skyline--a modest collection of high rises--Vancouver's skyline is really the local mountains. Grouse Mountain, Mt. Seymour and Mt. Hollyburn beckon city-dwellers to climb their eerie heights.

Vancouver's best walks are on its wild side. The vast wilderness just beyond Vancouver's suburban sprawl is not the abstraction it is in North American metropolises more cut off from the wild. Wilderness trail heads are located at the end of suburban streets. Just minutes from downtown coffeehouses is a mist-shrouded forest full of mountain lions and bears.

The North Shore Rescue Team, Vancouver volunteers much admired for their efforts to locate hikers lost in the oh-so-close North Shore Mountains, is oftendispatched during the summer hiking season.

Many city-slickers overestimate their back-country skills, experts point out. While this situation exists in parkland around every big city, the problem is more acute in Vancouver because the terrain is so rugged. More than a dozen hikers have perished in the North Shore Mountains during the last five years.Last year, two women got lost on the forested shoulder of Grouse Mountain, while within sight of Vancouver down below. They did what increasing numbers of upscale hikers do: They reached for a cellular phone and called 911.

False Creek: 6.2-mile loop; shorter walks possible.

Vancouver's False Creek (actually a tidal inlet) was until 1970 little more than a dump, an open sewer. Then came a rapid renaissance. Industrial land on both sides of False Creek was reclaimed for waterfront shopping, dining, walking, living. As False Creek was restored, so was Granville Island, now one of Vancouver' six major commercial and cultural centers.

Federally bankrolled redevelopment is sometimes an aesthetic disaster, but here they did it right. The False Creek-Granville Island walk is Vancouver's best urban jaunt. Follow the sea wall and some waterfront streets to visit a maritime museum and a science center.

Granville Island's Public market features espresso bars, every kind of ethnic fast-food from Greek to Thai to British (fish and chips), as well as flower stalls and fruit and vegetable stands. Slake your thirst with an all-natural unpasteurized beer at Granville Island Brewery, Canada's first microbrewery, established in 1984.

Ferry service helps you customize a False Creek walk for your time and energy. If sightseeing is your primary objective, start at Granville Island, then walk the sea wall.

If you want a 10K-see-it-all workout, start walking at the mouth of False Creek in Vanier Park. Drop by the flying-saucer-looking H.R. MacMillan Planetarium, the Vancouver Museum (pioneer and native history exhibits) and the Maritime Museum. Follow the sea wall to Granville Bridge and Granville Island, then head east along False Creek. At Cambie Bridge, the sea wall ends and urban hikers detour inland for a few blocks through the last real industrial area. . At the top of False Creek inlet, visit Science World.

Rejoin the shoreline path and head back to the Cambie and Granville bridges. Take the Burrard Bridge back to the shore or board the ferry for the five-minute ride across False Creek.

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