West Fraser builds and maintains hundreds of kilometres of roads as a part of our forest management practices. In 2013, a road near Pleasant Valley Creek in the Quesnel, B.C. area, was becoming very close to being swallowed up by the river. A bad spring flood had diverted the river across the road, where it was beginning to cut a new path. Although trucking around the river washout was possible, it would add a lot more hours for log hauling trips and millions of dollars of cost in the region over the next decade of expected harvesting activity.
The flooded road was a problem many years in the making – 100 years to be exact. In the heart of B.C.’s gold rush region, Pleasant Valley Creek had been redirected by hydraulic mining activities in the early 1900s that had sprayed dirt, rock and other material into the riverbed, diverting the river’s natural course. As a result, the riverbank was higher than the nearby road and flooding it.
After weighing all the options, it was decided that the best way to retain a safe road route would be to bring the water channel back to its normal state and restore the river and the road. It was an opportunity for West Fraser to fix the long-standing environmental damage and provide a long-term solution for everyone that depends on the road in the area.
The process to put the river back in its original path was intricate and purposeful. The area was surveyed and plans were drawn up for the engineering work, construction, and fish habitat and wildlife management. Many government departments (federal and provincial), biologists, engineers and foresters all worked together on the reclamation approach.
The first step was to replicate the creek's natural twisting and turning pattern. The team dug out a winding channel where the river used to be and allowed it to flow back into its rightful place. 100 fish were re-located from the washout channel back into the reconstructed channel, a sign of the potential of this reclaimed stream.
The old mining material dug up from the riverbed became the material to rebuild the road. The road reconstruction built up the route higher than the river and rock groynes were installed. Rock groynes are piles of rock that flare out from the road to control potential future floods from eroding the route.
With the river back in its original channel and the road construction completed, work turned to re-vegetating the stream sides and creating fish habitat. Willow tree cuttings were planted along the riverbank to stabilize the creek sides and to create greenery that will shade the water’s edges. Pine seedlings and grass were planted in the adjacent disturbed areas to initiate re-establishment of the stream side vegetation.
After re-vegetating the stream, you would not be able to tell that it is an area that was restored. Success means the area looks natural. Seeing the stream in person, unless you know what you are looking for, it can be hard to see the level of detail implemented to ensure the landscape has the right attributes for a natural ecosystem. Using local trees and rebuilding the road with the rock from the area, it all looks like it belongs there – like it was always this way.
If you visit this reclaimed river area today, recreationalists have built an RV camping site at the side of the creek; a promising sign that West Fraser and all of the agencies and professionals involved have brought the river back to its former beauty.