Millions of years ago the park area was the site of an active seabed volcano. The rim of the volcano can be traced on geological maps to this day. Pillow Basalt (lava rock) can be seen throughout the park, try looking at Tower Point from Parry Bay or the frontal view of Sitting Lady Falls cascading 18 metres (59 ft) down the rock in intricate patterns as seen from the other side of the lagoon.
Witty's Lagoon was first settled by a band of Coast Salish people called the Ka-Kyaaken. It is thought that they arrived soon after the last glacier melted, about 10,000 years ago. There are five known archeological sites of the Ka-Kyaaken in the park, three shell middens and two fortified sites, which are protected by the Heritage Conservation Act. The Metchosin area was purchased by the Hudson's Bay Company for blankets worth £43 and change in 1850. After the signing of the Fort Victoria Treaties in 1851 the Witty's Lagoon area was purchased privately by several families who farmed the land until the late 1860s. The native people continued to live on the beach, providing canoe transport to Fort Victoria for the community. The remaining members of the band moved to Esquimalt to join the main Songhees tribe in the early 1860s. The Witty family purchased the lagoon property in 1867. 18 hectares (44.5 acres) were purchased from the Wittys in 1969 to start the park which has since grown to 58 hectares (143 acres).
A nature house sits at the end of the main parking lot. The trail starts here following a short downhill grade to Bilston Creek where it branches off to the left and a bridgepath crosses the creek to the right. Both paths lead through arbutus, broadleaf maple, cedar and Douglas-fir forests, circling the tidal lagoon, and one leads out to the sandy beach that shelters the lagoon. There are over 5 km (3 mi) of trails winding their way through the park.
The left path skirts around the edge of the lagoon and meets up with some of the other trails that lead from Metchosin Road including the maintenance road that doubles as a wheelchair access route. In fact, wheelchair access at Witty's means a trail all the way down to the lagoon with a picnic area and two pairs of toilets along the way, for your use. There is a spectacular viewpoint directly across from Sitting Lady Falls. The old nature house and a riding ring can be found near this viewpoint. The path continues down to a nice picnic area right on the lagoon. Other paths lead through this section of the park and towards Tower Point (reached by a short walk on Olympic View Drive).
Taking the bridge to the right across Bilston Creek leads to a viewpoint right above Sitting Lady Falls. The trail leads downhill. There can be a couple of muddy sections on the way down so watch your step. As you come down to sea level you come out of the forest and pass old fruit trees, blackberry and wild roses. A short bridge crosses the edge of the lagoon which is covered with glasswort. Another forested area follows the edge of the lagoon out to the sandy beach at Parry Bay. Tower Point can be seen to the left. The Haystock Islets sit in the mouth of the bay, sometimes they are covered with dozens of harbour seals soaking up rays. The bay is very shallow, when the tide is out you can walk out quite close to the islets and when the tide is in you can wade out a long ways. In addition to the seals that frequent the area, sea lions can be seen in the spring on their migration route.
A tidal zone lies between the beach and the lagoon. Channels of salt water are home to snails, crab and fish. This is also where you will find glasswort covering the marsh, the wort also covered with the parasitic orange stems of saltmarsh dodder in the summer. The lagoon itself covers 17 hectares (42 acres) and at low tide is less than a meter deep in most places.
Over 150 different birds can be spotted in the park including: kildeer, greater yellowlegs, spotted sandpiper, western gull, pacific loon, pelagic cormorant, great blue heron, Canada goose, mallard, sandhill crane, osprey, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, peregrine falcon, great horned owl, rufous hummingbird, pileated woodpecker, tree swallow, Steller's jay, common raven, red-breasted nuthatch, hermit thrush, winter wren, yellow-rumped warbler and fox sparrow.
With so many diverse environments in the park there are a wide variety of grasses, plants and wildflowers to be discovered all year. In the autumn dozens of types of fungi can be found also. Most are toadstool-shaped mushrooms but there are others like the round puffballs and the shelf-like bracket fungi growing on the sides of trees.
The Tower Point section of the park has a variety of trails through old farm fields and across the volcanic rock.
Background image by Roger St-Pierre, text and photo by Larry Moss
Witty's Lagoon Photos