City gains park land

A 77-acre heritage site in the 560-acre Green Timbers Urban Forest will now be accessible to the public, as the province gives the property to the City of Surrey.

Peter Maarsman, president of the Green Timbers Heritage Society, has fought for the last decade to obtain public access to the property.

Until now, he said, tour groups have only been able to see the forestry site from a distance because it’s been fenced off.

“I get e-mails almost every other day from teachers wanting to get their children into the forest,” Maarsman said. “Nobody could get in there, we’ve been giving tours on the other side.”

As of Friday, the public has access to the area, which has deep historical value.

Green Timbers Urban Forest represents the first attempt at reforestation in British Columbia.

In the 1920s, the area was completely clearcut by King and Farris Company to feed its Newton-based sawmill. Replanting began in the 1930s and the area became home to one of the province’s only forest nursery sites, providing seedlings to replant throughout the rest of B.C.

As of about three years ago, the nursery had provided 5.5 billion seedlings to reforest other areas of the province.

Several attempts to develop Green Timbers Urban Forest, including a proposed sports complex, a college and a university, failed amid tremendous public opposition.

Maarsman said Friday’s announcement finally puts to rest any fears the property will be paved over for development.

The city is committing about $1 million to bring the existing heritage buildings up to code for public use.

Mayor Dianne Watts described it as a huge win.

“This really is a treasure for the city,” Watts said.

Maarsman said there will be a museum, a summer camp and other amenities available to the public when all renovation plans are complete.

Maarsman attributes his eventual success to tenacity.

“I didn’t give up, I wouldn’t go away,” he said.

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