Squishing cold between bare toes and slurping with every step in knee-deep mud, this signals that spring is here for naturalists at Goldstream river.
This time of year they lead small groups through the estuary beside the Goldstream Nature House, where the river feeds into the ocean. Usually only elementary school classes that tour the marshy flatland, but for the first time public tours are also offered.
“We want people to see what a special place this is,” said Nature House manager Tracey Bleackley.
While the estuary used to have walking trails for public use, the park limited public access in 1991 to protect the sensitive ecosystem.
It can be viewed from a platform, but walking through the estuary without a guide is prohibited.
In the fall or winter, high tides drown the estuary, making it easily mistakable for a lake. But now the water has receded to reveal grasses and rare flowers.
Because the area is protected, it’s a good place to see wildlife, such as snakes, frogs, river otters, geese with their goslings, and larger birds or prey.
“It’s a nursery for wildlife,” Bleackley said.
This is especially true for the salmon fry leaving Goldsream river. They spend several weeks in the estuary, where salt and fresh water mixes, undergoing their smolting process to prepare for life in the ocean.
While the salmon aren’t in the estuary now, groups will be given a chance to take their own journey down the tide channels the fish swam through last winter.
“Everyone will have a chance to get knee deep in the mud,” Bleackley said. “We’ll take off our boots and walk in the mud, then go to the river to wash off.”
Bleackley encourages participants to wear shorts and gumboots on the tours, which will leave from the Nature House hourly on Saturday, May 21 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours are offered by a suggested donation of $5 per family.
For more information visit www.naturehouse.ca and click “south island.”