Paradise MeadowsNear Courtenay
Located in Strathcona Park near Courtenay, the Paradise Meadows ecosystem is the only substantially sized protected sub-alpine ecosystem on Vancouver Island. Supporting an incredible variety of seasonally flowering plants, as well as countless numbers of scrub and low-growing bushes, this area is a hotspot of biodiversity on Vancouver Island. The seasonal blooms bring birds, rodents, bears, and the infamous whiskey jack (grey jay) back to the meadows to take advantage of the rich vegetation. Protected as part of BC’s oldest provincial park, this delicate area is off limits to logging and development, but is at risk from the volume of people who visit this area each year and leave their mark on the ecosystem.
Location and AccessCoordinates: 49°43’43”N 125°18’43”W
The Paradise Meadows Ecosystem is embedded within Strathcona Park, the oldest park in BC, which is located in the central portion of Vancouver Island, stretching from Great Central Lake in the south, past the town of Gold River in the north. The Paradise Meadows are one of the most frequented points in the park, with easy access via a short hike from the Nordic Lodge of the Mount Washington Ski Resort.
Strathcona Park is one of the most diverse parks in Canada, containing representations of four out of five of Vancouver Island’s major geoclimatic biomes. The Paradise Meadows are just one of those, and they constitute a minority of the park’s surface area. They are classified as a sub-alpine open ecosystem, and are characterized by rolling hills interspersed with low-lying swamps and areas of grass. Small, alpine evergreen trees dot the landscape, and are generally sparse and stunted, due to the requirement of surviving the heavy snowfall and winds that last much of the year. Lying high in elevation, between even higher mountain peaks, the meadows are fed by numerous small snowmelt streams that wind their way through the swamps, congregating in small lakes, and eventually finding their way down the mountains. The meadows are extremely fragile, as the short growing season requires optimal conditions to reach its full potential. There are numerous trails throughout the area, and damage from heavy human traffic is evident. Erosion, bare earth, and trampled greenery due to careless hikers are common sights in this area, and litter is a constant problem. The meadows are a biogeographic island, with no comparable ecosystem within a reasonable distance, and as a result, when combined with the harsh alpine conditions, the recovery time from damage is very long.
Life in the Meadows
The Paradise Meadows support a wide variety of seasonal life in concentrations greater than in other areas on Vancouver Island. Birds living in the meadows include the chestnut-backed chickadee, the red-breasted nuthatch, the winter wren, the kinglet, the Steller’s jay, the whiskey jack (grey jay), the blue and ruffled grouses, and the threatened Vancouver Island white ptarmigan. Many mammals inhabit the meadows as well, with small rodents, bears, cougars, and the occasional wolf being present. Near the meadows is the habitat of the critically endangered Vancouver Island Marmot. Due to the number of small lakes and streams, fish abound, with small rainbow and cutthroat trout present, along with a local species of stickleback and sculpin.
Though no species are endemic to the meadows, the sensitivity of the whole ecosystem is high, and as mentioned, the succession process takes a long time, with the recovery of de-vegetated areas to their original state estimated to take decades.