Chase Woods Nature Preserve
Morning mist over Chase Woods (Photo by Ren Ferguson)
Harbouring an intact example of the old-growth coastal Douglas-fir forests that once dominated southeastern Vancouver Island, Chase Woods is an important remnant of an ecosystem that has been significantly impacted by the expanding human footprint in southwest British Columbia.
Chase Woods represents an ecologically and culturally significant piece of the Cowichan Valley mosaic. Rising from sea level to almost 400 metres at the summit of Mt. Tzouhalem, Chase Woods nurtures a microcosm of the rare coastal Douglas-fir forest in all its diversity.
This 40-hectare (100-acre) nature preserve is located on Mt. Tzouhalem in the Cowichan Valley and includes dramatic cliffs that offer spectacular panoramic views of Cowichan Bay and the valley beyond. This land is in the heart of the traditional territory of the Cowichan Tribes, and Chase Woods itself holds significant cultural value to the band members, who continue to use the site to this day.
Connected to the Mount Tzuhalem Ecological Reserve via the forested slopes of Providence Farm, and containing the giant steel cross that can be seen from across Cowichan Bay, Chase Woods supports a natural treasure that is already well-loved by naturalists, hikers, historians and countless others from the local community and beyond.
Mt.Tzouhalem moonrise, Chase Woods, BC (Photo by Mike Szaszik)
Chase Woods Nature Preserve was designated a Nature Destination in 2019. Visitors access the preserve via a popular network of trails that criss-cross Mt. Tzouhalem, passing through municipal forest land, provincial Mount Tzuhalem Ecological Reserve, Providence Farm and Chase Woods.
A defining feature of the mountain is a giant cross that stands on the cliffs of Chase Woods. The white cross can be seen across from across Cowichan Bay and is a beloved local landmark. This site is visited by thousands of people each year. The challenging trek rewards hikers with a panoramic view of Cowichan Valley.
Hikers and mountain bikers alike use these trails, so please use caution and be aware of your surroundings when visiting these trails. Visitors to NCC's conservation lands do so at their own risk. Hike and explore safely.
The cliffs of Chase Woods Nature Preserve, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis)
Older Coastal Douglas-fir forests are among the rarest ecosystems in British Columbia and are considered of the highest conservation value. Chase Woods supports 100 acres (40 hectares) of intact Coastal Douglas-fir habitat, nurturing centuries-old western yew, Douglas-fir, Garry oak, lodgepole pine and arbutus. The property is home to a number of rare species and habitat types, including the globally imperiled Garry oak plant community. Dramatic boulder fields, hidden caves and steep cliffs create structural diversity and support a multitude of small mammals, bats and birds of prey. Streamside habitat on the preserve supports numerous amphibian species.
Chase Woods connects to the Cowichan Bay estuary, much of which is already protected by other conservation organizations. The adjacent undeveloped slopes of Providence Farm allow rare species to move between the Mount Tzuhalem Ecological Reserve and Chase Woods. Nearby, the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve (the Nature Conservancy of Canada's flagship project in the valley) harbours many valuable and rare species that will benefit from increased habitat in the general area.
Wetland restoration project
Wetlands on Chase Woods Nature Reserve (Photo by NCC)
The low-lying areas of Chase Woods were once intertidal marsh lands, connected to the Cowichan estuary at high tide and providing important habitat for salmon and migratory waterfowl. The wetland areas also attract large breeding congregations of Pacific tree frogs, great blue herons and raccoons. In the early 20th century, this land was drained and converted for agriculture, and though remnants of wetlands remain, most was lost. Today, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is working on an ambitious restoration project to restore close to 2.5 hectares (close to 6 acres) of these wetlands.
David and Louise Chase
David Chase and his grandsons, Chase and Woods. (Photo courtesy of the family)
David and Louise Chase came to the Cowichan Valley in the 1950s intending to log a property they had purchased sight unseen. But upon setting foot in the grand Douglas-fir forest, their priorities changed. The Chases settled on the property and spent five decades carefully tending their beloved forest and sharing their private park with friends. After Louise passed away, David cared for the property until, at age 98, he began looking for a new land steward.
“I spent half my working life keeping it like a park,” he said at the time. “But I'm out of gas, so it's time for someone else to take care of it now.”
NCC acquired Chase Woods in 2009, fulfilling David's dream of protecting the towering trees forever.
A cross story
In the fall of 2014, the cross fell down in an unusually strong windstorm. Watch the cross being reinstalled to its perch overlooking the valley:
Partners in conservation
We would like to thank the following groups for their support in the campaign to protect Chase Woods: Cowichan Community Land Trust, Kaatza Foundation, Lohn Foundation, Government of Canada (through the Natural Areas Conservation Program), BC Trust for Public Lands, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, British Columbia Conservation Foundation, Maple Bay Ratepayers Association, Laura Harris (in memoriam), Sue Coleman and numerous Cowichan Valley community members.