Morrison Creek’s Wild Headwaters
The Morrison Creek Headwaters is a wild area roughly the size of Stanley Park set between Lake Trail Road to the north and Maple Lake to the south. It extends west from the Inland Island Highway to a gravel escarpment that parallels Bevan/Pigeon Lake Road, and then turns to the east meeting the Inland Island Highway near Maple Lake.
This relatively flat, forested land, which has seen periods of logging over the years, holds the upper reaches of Morrison Creek and is also a source of water for the Millard-Piercy watershed. Morrison Creek’s numerous tributaries and some 90 hectares of wetland are fed by dozens of prolific springs and many seeps that rise from the base of the escarpment.
The forest is a mixture of alder, maple, cottonwood and conifers. The conifers are a mixture of ages and species, from those just springing up, to others perhaps 50 years old, along with the odd old veteran. Open, wetter areas are dominated by deciduous trees. Riparian areas have been graciously left with larger conifers. Open ponds, reedy swamps, skunk cabbage hollows, and soggy devils club slopes abound in the area.
Morrison Creek’s iconic species is the Morrison Creek Lamprey. It is a potentially parasitic form of the common, non parasitic Western Brook Lamprey, Lampetra richardsoni. Lampreys are thought to spend 5-7 years as larval ammocoetes, filtering food from their burrows in quiet, silty creek beds. Most Western Brook Lampreys emerge from the creek bed, undergo metamorphosis, quickly spawn in freshwater and die.
Only in Morrison Creek does this species metamorphose into two distinct mature forms, one bronze and toothless, the other silver with teeth, Lampetra richardsoni var. marifuga. This form spawns a full year later. Its feeding habits are not entirely known and its breeding habits are a mystery. Such a life history is rare and offers a unique glimpse into evolution in progress. The constant flow of spring fed water from the headwaters is surmised to contribute to this unusual evolution. The Morrison Creek Lamprey is listed as endangered by COSEWIC.
The Morrison Creek Lamprey may be the diva of the creek but the foundations of its life are the plentiful runs of chum, pink and coho and the occasional chinook salmon, as well as cutthroat and rainbow trout. Fisheries records indicate that Morrison Creek is one of the most productive salmon watersheds of its size on eastern Vancouver Island.
Though the main course of Morrison runs through both urban and rural areas, its channel and riparian zone are natural enough to provide good habitat for salmon. The relatively undisturbed area of the headwaters, with low gradients, many ponds and beaver dams, moderates high flows and flooding, helping to keep reds and eggs in place. While many streams dry up in our increasingly hot summers, the springs and ponds provide a continual flow of cool water year round, a rare trait that helps rear coho fry. Coho juveniles stay in freshwater for 1 to 2 years before going to sea.
Other creeks have been enhanced through hatchery programs; so far Morrison Creek is self sustaining and productive. As the tributaries and wetlands of the headwaters have not been dug, drained, ditched, piped or paved, and the neighbouring riparian areas are mostly intact, the headwaters of Morrison Creek continues to provide, in addition to lamprey and salmon, a rich habitat for diverse aquatic life.
Many other creatures have been seen or have left their mark in the headwaters: cougar, wolves, black bear, elk, deer, otter, mink and beaver to name the furry ones. Song birds, raptors and waterfowl abound. Of chorus frogs, both tree frogs and red legged frogs are found here. Salamanders and toads are not often mentioned in reports, being elusive, but an investigation of the many ponds and their environs may reveal a variety of salamanders. Fortunately, no bull frogs have been reported in the area.
The Elegant Rein Orchid Piperia elegans, more common south of here, grows in the Headwaters. The vegetation varies with the conditions, but the land having been logged and mostly wet, is more brushy than clear underfoot. Areas off the roadway are sometimes challenging to traverse and a wandering path ensues. Old beaver dams form critter highways but we find them useful as well. The Project Watershed website has maps and the SHIM report (Sensitive Habitat Inventory Mapping) for more information. The report recommended and followed up with a proposal for conservation of the Headwaters, an initiative the Morrison Creek Streamkeepers are rekindling.
The lands are privately owned, with two rural residences and two managed forest lots. The majority of the headwaters lie within the Village of Cumberland and are mostly owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group. Signs posted on Bevan Road across from the dump state that hiking and horseback riding are permitted. For more information on the creek visit morrisoncreek.org and for information on routes and access contact the Morrison Creek Streamkeepers at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to take you for a walk.
Morrison Creek Streamkeepers