Imagine you knew of a network of trails to rival any other in Abbotsford that no one – or, at least, relatively few others – had discovered. You can walk for a half-hour past old-growth trees wider than your car and not cross another soul. It’s three minutes from the downtown bustle, a quick drive from your desk, and perfect for a lunch-hour stroll.
The scenery is world-class. The trail is neither too challenging nor too boring. And, let me repeat, no one else seems to know about it.
You’d have to be a fool to share your secret in a newspaper read by thousands of Abbotsford residents – people who, a recent city survey shows, value their trails above pretty much every other recreational and cultural amenity.
Still, some secrets are worth sharing, and the trails in Downes Bowl at Clearbrook Park deserve some wider amount of appreciation.
Clearbrook Park itself presents itself as a pretty average open space with some fields, an off-leash area for dogs, and the distinct hum of high-voltage power lines overhead. A trail skirts the north side of the park and overlooks what appears to be a treed ravine.
If you haven’t consulted a map and aren’t paying close attention, you could miss a branch of the trail that leads down into a wilderness far removed from the hustle and bustle of central Abbotsford just a kilometre or two away.
The map below shows the junction between the trail along the bowl’s southern ridge, and one that takes hikers to the forest floor. Other trails can be accessed off of Downes Road and Qualicum Street. There is street parking near the Qualicum entrance.
Once down in the bowl, it’s still possible to miss out on Downes’ true beauty. Stick to the well-trodden gravel trail on the southern edge of the bowl and you’ll soon start heading back uphill and emerge into a residential neighbourhood.
So instead turn left, and head deeper into what is often a completely empty park. The trail weaves and dives, it splits and splits again. If you don’t have a carrier pigeon’s sense of direction, you may find yourself confused as to where, exactly, you are. Don’t worry. Keep going deeper into the bowl.
You may come across an ancient map of the trail system of the park. If you can figure out where you are from the map, you’ve done better than I ever have. So disregard them. The trails reward familiarity, but won’t punish newcomers (although if your boss will fire you for returning from lunch 15 minutes late, maybe first check out the park on the weekend). Eventually you’ll find yourself in a familiar location, back on the bowl’s southern edge and headed up and out.
Before that moment comes, though, you should find yourself walking by a massive tree uprooted by a recent storm, gazing down at a large pond with ducks, geese and other birds, and probably navigating one or two muddy areas. You’ll cross a decent-sized boardwalk, pass jumps occasionally rarely used by mountain bikers, and hear the sounds of three or four micro-ecosystems. Maybe you, too, will spot – 20 yards immediately up you in one of the park’s massive trees – the loud and unmissable owl a pair of News hikers observed just yesterday.
You’ll wonder why you don’t see anybody else.
Don’t be a fool.
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