What do award-winning Canadian poet Lorna Crozier, a legendary Chinese hermit, and many residents of Langley, B.C., have in common?
They are all involved in an effort to save the McLellan Park East Forest, a 25-acre tract of unique older forest located in Langley’s Glen Valley area.
The township, which acquired the land in the 1930s, is planning to sell the parcel to private developers unless those who want to preserve it can raise $3 million to purchase it by Dec. 17.
So far, local conservation group Watchers of Langley Forest (WOLF) has raised less than $50,000.
The group argues that the forest, which includes 200-year-old trees, is one of the last of its kind that exists in the area, and its rare biodiversity provides a unique nature experience that should be protected for future generations.
Susan McCaslin, a Fort Langely resident and award-winning poet, decided to use her talent and connections to fight for the forest after she was “taken” by its beauty on a recent hike.
“As an artist, as a poet, I decided that I would like to contribute something from the arts angle to the cause of trying to protect the forest,” she says.
As a way to bring attention to the issue, McCaslin worked with WOLF to organize a “poetry hanging” inspired by famed Chinese philosopher and recluse Han Shan, who wrote more than 300 poems during the Tang Dynasty.
Shan was known for writing poetry on rocks and hanging them from trees in the mountains where he lived, calling himself a “guest” of nature.
Artists and writers from across Canada and around the world have been sending in their poetry or visiting the forest to contribute to the preservation cause, including a poem from acclaimed writer Lorna Crozier and a visit from world-renowned wilderness artist Robert Bateman.
So far, McCaslin has received about 200 poems, with “more flowing in every day”—some from far-flung locations such as Australia, the U.K., New Mexico, and Turkey.
The diversity of the poems that have been sent in kind of imitates the biodiversity of the forest.
— Poet Susan McCaslin
“The [writers] say, ‘Your issue really resonates with us, we have the same issue going on here, and we’re with you,’” says McCaslin. “It’s just been an incredible outpouring of support.”
“The diversity of the poems that have been sent in kind of imitates the biodiversity of the forest.”
McCaslin and WOLF have also been organizing other events to raise awareness about the issue in recent months, including local musical performances, poetry readings, nature walks, photography exhibits, and environmental speakers.
Land Zoned as Residential
Langley councillors and locals attended a packed town hall meeting on Dec.10 where McCaslin, along with local residents, activists, and scientists gave presentations in favour of preserving the forest.
Although the presentations brought up important environmental and cultural issues, council members asked few questions and did not appear to be “swayed,” McCaslin said.
Council has argued the parcel is the smallest of the township’s many land holdings in the area, and that they have already agreed to forgo sale of another land holding in the western part of the forest after locals objected earlier this year.
The 25-acre parcel in question is also zoned as residential, low-density land. Council says this zoning designation would protect it from extensive development, as it will most likely be used for “country estates” and single-family dwellings because buildings cannot cover more than 33 percent of the lot.
Council members originally intended to sell both parcels of forest land to fund a community centre, swimming pool, and ice rink in nearby Aldergrove, but have since announced they will find the money elsewhere.
The BC Ministry of Environment said in a recent letter to some opponents of developing the land that the forest has “high biodiversity values,” making it a potential candidate for an ecological reserve. However, the Ministry does not currently have the money to purchase the land.
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