So I got this note from Pam Mandel, a Seattle travel writer, via Twitter last night:

nerdseyeview @julieoc richmond is the kinda town you want a local to drag you around. it’s not easy to know what to do/where to go, but it could be fun.

And she’s right of course. It’s easy to forget that Richmond, BC —land of mini-malls and big-box stores—is an island, with an island’s watery charms. I grew up there, so I say this with some authority. Descending into Vancouver International Airport, you stare down on Richmond’s hard, grey, flat expanse of roadways and rooftops and retail. But look to the edge of the frame, to the soft-ripened spot where the dyke holds back the mighty Fraser River: now that’s a place you ought to get to know—especially in springtime.

Bike the dyke

Bike the dyke

Richmond is below sea level and the 80-km dyke that rings the island is one of the city’s best features—and not merely as a safety measure. It’s at once a backyard fitness track for locals, a rich habitat for migratory birds, and a quiet refuge for the world-weary (except, I guess, for two weeks in 2010, when the new riverside Olympic speed-skating oval will be a little busy). 

Walk (or bike) it in the spring, when warmer weather wakes up the critters that call the marshland home. Start at Steveston village, where the annual farmers’ and artisans’ market gets underway in the parking lot of the historic Gulf of Georgia cannery every Sunday starting in late May until September. Grab a cone of fish and chips from Dave’s or Pajo’s, and then settle down at nearby Garry Point Park to catch the serendipitous photo-op of the day: Japanese box-kites slashing through the sky, or colourful fishing boats sauntering home for supper, or wizened old ladies practicing Tai Chi on the beach.

Stay long enough and you might even catch an epic sunset—a not-quickly-forgotten magenta stain in the sky over the distant Gulf Islands.  And if you’ve worked up an appetite, remember: there’s a glut of award-winning Chinese restaurants just a few miles down the road…