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Newton Lake. Photo: Ana Simeon
General · 15th June 2014
Exploring the Heart of Quadra Parks
(Posted on the Sierra Club website by Ana Simeon at Jun 03, 2014)

Nature-lovers rejoice! As of March 2014, Vancouver Islanders have a new park in our back yard. Unofficially known as the Heart of Quadra Parks, it comprises nearly 400 hectares of forest on the northern tip of Quadra Island, and connects two existing marine parks – Octopus Island and Small Inlet. Kayakers will love the sheltered anchorage at Waiatt Bay and Small Inlet, and the historic portage trail between them. For hikers, the new park now officially extends the existing Newton Lake trail all the way to Waiatt Bay, making it an athletic half-day hike or a more leisurely full-day outing with plenty of time to discover and enjoy several delightful spots.

The hiking trail starts at the aptly named Granite Bay, and the first couple of kilometres are a bit of a slog up the rocky bed of an old logging road. Once you reach the first of four small lakes, the trail becomes story-book perfect – soft and springy underfoot, pleasurably meandering, and with tantalizing glimpses of distant views to sustain the hiker in a state of happy anticipation. The trail passes through second-growth forest lush with huckleberry and salal, with trailing vines of salmonberry displaying large pink flowers, irresistible to hummingbirds, or later in the season, delicious red berries.

Soon you will reach Newton Lake, with bluffs overlooking a small island. It is a good place to stop awhile and let your breath and body find their way back to the rhythms of the land and water. Listen for the yodelling call of nesting Common Loons. This iconic sound of northern summers is not often heard on the coast, as the majority of overwintering loons return to their ancestral lakes in the Interior for the breeding season. But some pairs do stay to breed if they spot a lake to their liking, and Newton Lake has everything a loon can possibly desire – plenty of fish and a remote wilderness location free of human disturbance. If you aren’t very familiar with the loon’s repertoire of vocalizations – wail, “laughter”, tremolo – you may wonder whether you’re hearing a wolf’s howl. And indeed you may be: there are two wolf packs on the island (although you’re much more likely to hear them at night). Black bears make a seasonal appearance in the fall, swimming across the channel from Vancouver Island to feast on spawning salmon.

Past Newton Lake follow the left fork sign-posted for Small Inlet, and watch for two waterfalls on your left. Then follows a steep descent down to Small Inlet, the most difficult portion of this moderately challenging hike; and a short portage trail over mostly even terrain across to Waiatt Bay, the site of a prehistoric First Nations village.

Seeing a loon chick riding on a parent’s back, an otter playing with its young, or a black bear snacking on berries – such moments are the stuff of wilderness stories we tell and retell for years afterwards. With cellphones and cameras, the temptation is strong to “capture” the image to share with our friends. But the true healing power of wilderness cannot be captured, and doesn’t depend on such peak moments. It comes to us through the feet sensing the constantly changing surfaces, the lungs drinking in the green-scented air; most of all, it comes through the many-layered tapestry of sounds. The soft background chirping of forest birds; the stillness of Newton Lake with only a whisper of air moving the salmonberry leaves, and then the buzz of a hummingbird; the exultant crescendo of the waterfall calling forth our own wildness. Thus restored to our forest birthright, when we do encounter the loon, the otter or the bear, we meet them on equal terms of mutual recognition and belonging.