Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve caretaker Werner Arnold points across the water to where a viewing platform (in background) is supposed to be located at the reserve on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. The platform, along with another one, were washed away during the November floods. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve caretaker Werner Arnold points across the water to where a viewing platform (in background) is supposed to be located at the reserve on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. The platform, along with another one, were washed away during the November floods. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Chilliwack’s heron reserve ready to open after flood, ice storm cleanup

Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve caretakers, city crews toiled for more than 2 months to clean up park

Chilliwack’s Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve (GBHNR) is ready to open after being closed for two and a half months due to flooding and an ice storm.

The site was closed to the public on Nov. 14 as two back-to-back atmospheric rivers pummelled the Fraser Valley.

Werner and Leona Arnold, the on-site caretakers at GBHNR, and the City of Chilliwack have been cleaning up the site ever since to make it accessible to the public.

Flooding on the trails at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve during the second, and more minor, of the November floods. (Werner Arnold)

Flooding on the trails at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve during the second, and more minor, of the November floods. (Werner Arnold)

The Arnolds, who have been the caretakers for 17 years, recall the floods vividly and the damage caused. They tried to evacuate as flood waters quickly rose around them and their mobile home on Monday, Nov. 15.

They got in their pickup truck, but couldn’t get out of their driveway, so they went back onto their deck. City workers and neighbour Mike Maskall came to their rescue, but it was a difficult and long task.

They arrived in a tractor with a bucket, but the flood water was too deep, so they decided to use a boat instead.

The boat didn’t have a motor and as they tried to row up to the Arnolds’ deck, the boat kept going around in circles with the water’s current. Eventually, Maskall went home to get a motor and they were able to get the two stranded caretakers to dry land.

Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve caretakers Werner and Leona Arnold had to be rescued by boat on Nov. 15, 2021 during the flooding. In the background is the Arnolds’ truck which they tried to use to evacuate. (Werner Arnold)

Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve caretakers Werner and Leona Arnold had to be rescued by boat on Nov. 15, 2021 during the flooding. In the background is the Arnolds’ truck which they tried to use to evacuate. (Werner Arnold)

It took about three hours in total and the water continued to rise the entire time.

After they were rescued, the dike broke and the water at the GBHNR receded. The Arnolds were only away from their home for one night but when they returned, everything was damaged.

”Everything in the park came into our backyard,” Leona said. “It was like a bomb went off in here.”

Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve caretaker Leona Arnold points out how high flood waters rose in her backyard as husband Werner looks on. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve caretaker Leona Arnold points out how high flood waters rose in her backyard as husband Werner looks on. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Damage done to the backyard of the caretakers’ home at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve following the November floods. (Werner Arnold)

Damage done to the backyard of the caretakers’ home at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve following the November floods. (Werner Arnold)

Things like portable toilets, picnic tables and more were strewn about. Several inches of silt covered their front lawn and backyard.

“It’s amazing the momentum that (the water) has and what it carries with it,” Werner said.

There was flood damage throughout the entire reserve. All three kilometres of trails (3,030 metres to be exact) in the park were covered in mud. The annex was flooded, but the interpretive centre (the main building) was fine.

Damage done to the trails at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve following the November floods. (Werner Arnold)

Damage done to the trails at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve following the November floods. (Werner Arnold)

The first task for Werner was to repair his equipment that was damaged in the flood so he could start to clear debris from the trails.

City crews came in with large equipment to remove mud from the trails, and larger items like root balls and fallen trees. They brought in hundreds of loads of gravel to resurface the trails.

Using a smaller tractor, quad and a shovel, Werner cleared muddy debris from places the city crews couldn’t get to like foot bridges.

“He hasn’t stopped working,” Leona said.

Fixtures like benches, portable toilets, picnic tables and garbage cans had to either be hauled back to their original locations after being swept away by flood waters, or were replaced.

Debris from the November floods sits on a bench at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve as caretaker Werner Arnold walks along a trail on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Debris from the November floods sits on a bench at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve as caretaker Werner Arnold walks along a trail on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

While they were cleaning up flood damage, another weather event came along – the ice storm.

“Every few minutes you’d hear a tree come down,” Leona recalled.

Werner had a new job on his hands as he removed thousands of branches and trees throughout the park.

Aside from during major snowfalls, both Werner and city crews have been working nearly every day to clean up the heron reserve so it can reopen.

Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve caretaker Werner Arnold points out some of the trees taken down by a recent ice storm while walking along a trail at the reserve on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve caretaker Werner Arnold points out some of the trees taken down by a recent ice storm while walking along a trail at the reserve on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Darrell Lindhout with the city called it a team effort between the caretakers and the city.

“Werner and Leona are wonderful,” he said.

On Friday, Jan. 28, some damage was still visible throughout the park like silt in the treed areas and viewing platforms out of place, but otherwise it was evident that a lot of work had gone into making the park beautiful again.

The city also inspected bridges and trails to ensure they’re safe for visitors, Lindhout added.

Now, after two and a half months of hard work, the heron reserve is finally ready to open on Monday, Jan. 31.

And Werner and Leona are more than ready to see visitors again.

“It’s just too lonely with no people around,” she said.

Werner agrees.

“People are just anxious to get in here, so I think it’s time to open up,” he said.

The Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve is located at 5200 Sumas Prairie Rd. in Chilliwack.

RELATED: Provincial funding goes to Chilliwack’s Great Blue Heron Reserve for trail upgrades


 

@PhotoJennalism
jenna.hauck@theprogress.com

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