From Langley's 'wasteland' to nature park

Langley is aiming to turn part of a former gravel pit into a new raised nature park

Langley’s Horne Pit has spent decades as a forgotten gravel mine. It could have a new life as a nature park. 📷 Google Maps

This story first appeared in the May 27th edition of the Fraser Valley Current newsletter. Subscribe for free to get Fraser Valley news in your email every weekday morning.

For decades, Horne Pit has been a “grey wasteland” on Langley’s western border. Soon, it could be home to the community’s newest park.

Once an active gravel mining operation, Horne Pit has been sitting idle since at least the 1990s. The Township of Langley owns the nearly 70-acre property, and for a long time let development pass the pit by, leaving piles of topsoil and asphalt rubble dotting its landscape.

Nature did not ignore mine, however. 

Over time, groundwater seeped up into the open pits, creating a new wetland within the scoured landscape. In the absence of both mining and construction, sections of Horne Pit grew ecologically important—establishing its own ecosystem that proved surprisingly resilient to the impacts of resource development. 

Six years ago, Langley Township decided it was time to do something with Horne Pit, and created a plan that would introduce housing, a school, and a firehall to the site. But now, after opposition from environmentalists and a push from the province, Langley is considering giving nature a helping hand in reclaiming more of the property.

The gravel pit

Development changed Langley. Both left Horne Pit alone.

Located halfway between Campbell Valley Regional Park and Langley City, the gravel mine has been sitting vacant in Langley’s Brookswood-Fernridge neighbourhood for decades. 

Owned by the Township of Langley, the property was used for gravel extraction sometime in the mid-20th century. Exactly when the gravel pit started has been lost to history—based on vegetation growth back in 2001, it is likely the Township was removing gravel from the site as early as the 1950s. By 1980, most of the mining on the site was finished. What remained were three large pits, and some large flat sections that would be used to store piles of topsoil, asphalt rubble, and turf. 

(A map from a 1989 report on BC’s aggregate industry showed the Horne Pit area was inactive, but not depleted. At the time, there were three other active gravel pits nearby, one of which was municipally owned. Some minor mining continued at Horne Pit until 1990.)

Gravel was, and continues to be, a key industry for many communities across the Fraser Valley. Needed for road and building construction—and prohibitively expensive to transport long distances—municipal gravel sites are a key source of construction material. In 1978, Langley produced roughly 480,000 cubic metres of gravel, at least some of which would have been used in local building projects. 

Once the excavators left, the gravel mine looked like a desolate wasteland. But, nature came back. 

A Google Earth model of Horne Pit, using imagery from 2014, shows how forested the area had become. The Township remediated the northeastern portion of the site in 2017, which removed much of that foliage. đź“· Google Earth

Black cottonwood and red alder began to spring up from the sandy substrate. Groundwater seeped up into the pits, and cattails began to grow. Beavers came and built dams. Coyotes established dens. Mink scampered around the earthen berms, and raccoons prowled the water’s edge.

“The process of forest regeneration in Horne Pit is impressive given that the area wasn’t prepared for planting; nor was it planted,” a 2001 report on the property declared. Instead, the property was naturalizing on its own, becoming a new—but ecologically important—ecosystem.

Return to nature

Cheam Lake Wetlands is one of many mines-turned-wetlands in the Fraser Valley. đź“· Dgu/Shutterstock

Mining wetlands are not uncommon in the Fraser Valley. Cheam Lake Wetlands near Chilliwack had been a marl mine in the 1950s, but is now a regional park. Aldergrove’s Jackman Wetlands  had also had a previous life as a gravel mine, as did Aldergrove Regional Park. Horne Pit was special in its own way, in large part because of its proximity to Tatalu, also known as the Little Campbell River. 

The Little Campbell River begins its meandering journey near Aldergrove, winding its way through Langley’s rolling farmland before forging through Campbell Valley. The waterway finally snakes its way through Surrey, and reaches the sea near the Semiahmoo First Nation. 

It might not be big—one could argue it’s hardly a river—but the Little Campbell is decidedly important to the area. It is one of the most productive salmon breeding grounds for its size, with more than 5,000 salmon returning to it annually. It is also significant to the Semiahmoo First Nation. It also faces significant challenges: in 2021, it was named one of the most endangered urban streams in BC by the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC.

Moving through farmland and urban development takes its toll on a waterway. Fertilizer from farms can kickstart processes that deplete oxygen in the water—a major problem for fish—and runoff from pavement can send warm or contaminated water into a stream.

So when groundwater began filling the depressions at Horne Pit, and subsequently trickled down to the Little Campbell, it was a boon for the stream. 

The Little Campbell River, circa April 2009, where it crosses 200th Street in Langley and heads towards the Horne Pit wetlands. đź“· Google Maps/Streetview

The cool water from the pits helped replenish the stream on its long trip through Langley toward Surrey’s urban development. Salmon could pause in the waters, and other animals began to establish lives on the banks of these new wetlands. 

People, too, began appreciating the return to nature and created new footpaths through the young forests. 

In the early 2000s, the Little Campbell Watershed Society commissioned a report on Horne Pit, with a goal of convincing the Township of Langley to turn it into a park.

Langley Township was on board, with the parks and recreation department saying they would like to see a park built in conjunction with a new secondary school. The report noted that a school would likely not be needed until at least 2011, but work could be done in the short term to enhance natural elements of the site. (Locals are still waiting for a new school.)

Nothing happened for nearly 20 years. Then, in 2017, the Township began preparing the site for development—flattening sections of the property and removing some of the vegetation that had been reclaiming the site. Some residents weren’t happy, but it was all part of the community’s new plan.

The neighbourhood plan

Like Horne Pit itself, Langley’s plans for its Brookswood and Fernridge communities had been left dormant for decades. 

In 1987, the Township developed its first Brookswood-Fernridge Community Plan, outlining what the area should look like in years to come. The southern Langley community had become increasingly popular in the late 1960s, after the new Port Mann Bridge made commuting to the city much easier. The 1987 plan created plans to allow for increased development in the area, introducing the possibility for smaller lots and some multi-family housing. 

But by the 2010s, the southern portion of the community was still largely undeveloped. Although Brookswood itself had seen more development, Fernridge was still relatively forested and rural even though, unlike most other flat, greenfield areas in the Fraser Valley, it wasn’t in the Agricultural Land Reserve. In 2012, a group of landowners tried to create their own neighbourhood plan, which council ultimately denied. But in 2016, the Township decided it was time for its own updates. 

The new Brookswood-Fernridge Community Plan focused on ways to increase development in the southern half of the community while still maintaining some of the “small-town” charm. The plan, which was adopted in 2017, aimed to add eight new schools to the area and nearly double its population. 

The document contained no specific reference to a park at Horne Pit. But it did designate the area for both housing and a conservation space—and the Township began remediating the site around the same time as the plan’s adoption. (The provincial government requires operators to remediate their gravel pits—ensuring there aren’t a bunch of empty holes left in the ground.) The remediation focused on the flat land on the northeast of the property, and not the already naturalized wetlands.

Horne Pit developed a significant natural ecosystem by the mid-2010s, a significant portion of which was removed when the Township remediated the former mine site. đź“· Google Earth Pro

Specific plans for Horne Pit would be addressed later, in subsequent neighbourhood plans—another bureaucratic process that would create official documents outlining how the neighbourhoods of Booth, Rinn, and Fernridge should be developed. 

That neighbourhood plan process began in April 2019, and focused on detailed refinements for land use, density, street patterns, building design, and amenities like nature parks. The pandemic derailed plan preparations, and the Township didn’t release the draft Fernridge neighbourhood plan until last spring. The plan included provisions for five neighbourhood parks in the area, each at least seven acres in size with a minimum of two acres dedicated to forest.

One of those parks was to include the Horne Pit wetlands, which were designated for conservation rather than active park use. The wetlands and the river were identified as aquatic conservation areas, but the plan only looked at preserving around 45% of the former quarry for park use. The remaining portion was set aside for an elementary school on the eastern side; a more detailed plan of the land showed other parts of the former gravel pit would be slated for small-lot houses, townhouses, affordable housing, and a firehall

Some residents were not happy about that vision. 

The 2023 conceptual layout for Horne Pit included housing and a firehall. đź“· Township of Langley

In late May, several speakers came out to support a more natural future for Horne Pit, saying that even though the wetlands started out as man-made pits, they were still important to the local ecosystem. Many also pointed to the development of Campbell Heights in Surrey, a sprawling industrial park located just across the municipal border from Horne Pit, and the effect that development has had on the Little Campbell River.

“When it comes to managing watersheds, we can’t ignore what’s happening on the landscape on adjacent lands,” Miles Lamont, a certified ecologist and agrologist, told council. “Surrey has done this in a less-than-stellar fashion, and I think the Township has the opportunity to do better.”

Ultimately, the speakers argued that Langley needed to help more trees emerge on the property, in order to make sure enough water could gently flow into the wetlands, and from there into the river. 

“I don’t know if the wetlands would survive with the plans that are in front of you,” Michael Davies, a scientist and then-senior advisor for a mining company, told council.

Despite the comments from environmentalists like Davies and Lamont, the Township adopted the Fernridge Neighbourhood Plan—and the somewhat sparse protection for the former gravel quarry—in July 2023. 

But, just seven months later, council reopened the documents again.

In the wake of new provincial legislation that changes how many homes can be built on certain types of lots, the township revisited its plans. And although the province wasn’t concerned about parks, Langley decided to alter its Horne Pit plans as well.

The future of the pit

The Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve in Chilliwack could be a model for Langley’s future park, with wetlands, viewing spots, trails, and amenities. 📷 Harry Beugelink/Shutterstock

Langley’s new plan for Horne Pit is sounding more and more like Chilliwack’s much-larger Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve, a 325-acre park with a perimeter trail around the wetlands, viewing spots, and some amenities. 

While the earlier version of the Fernridge Neighbourhood Plan envisioned an elementary school and a field sandwiched between the Horne Pit wetlands and 200th Street, Langley’s revised plan turns that land over to nature instead. (A school would be built south of 24 Ave instead.)

The roughly three-hectare chunk of the pit site is currently a flat, tree-free section of land that hadn’t been naturalized in the same way the mining ponds had. By adding native soil to that area, Langley staff suggested, the township could create a hill of dirt that would help establish native species. It could also provide a “unique experience” by creating trails and elevated views over the wetland and the rest of the Little Campbell River valley.

Staff also suggested the area, which doesn’t have much vegetation at the moment, would be an ideal space for trailhead facilities, bathrooms, and potentially “nature play features” for kids and wildlife viewing towers. 

It’s still just an idea. Although council agreed to the nature park concept, it will need to pass the new Fernridge Neighbourhood Plan before any work could be done. 

Once the plans are approved, the township will also need to establish a Fernridge Nature Park Conservancy and Management plan to help manage the wetlands long into the future. 

Some politicians, like Cou. Tim Baillie, were excited about the potential park addition. Baillie noted that he saw a possibility for creating a “unique destination place” where employment augmented the natural environment. (Baillie also said the area was still a “grey wasteland,” despite the ecological changes that had already taken place.)

Others, though, still think the Township isn’t setting enough of its old gravel pit aside for parks.  Other portions of Horne Pit are still reserved for development and municipal infrastructure like the firehall.

It is a start, however. The Township of Langley held an open house for the new nature park vision (and the rest of the neighbourhood plan, which included larger setbacks for riparian areas) on May 9. The final neighborhood plan—and what it means for Horne Pit—is expected to return to council for final consideration this summer.

Nature has been doing its part to reclaim the site for decades. Humans may finally start to lend a hand.

This story first appeared in the May 27th edition of the Fraser Valley Current newsletter. Subscribe for free to get Fraser Valley news in your email every weekday morning.


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