Holland meets rural england in the Vancouver, B. C., suburbs of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, bedroom communities surrounded by three rivers, forested parks, coastal mountains...

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Holland meets rural England in the Vancouver, B.C., suburbs of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, bedroom communities surrounded by three rivers, forested parks, coastal mountains and a 30-mile network of dikes built by Dutch settlers in the 1950s.

Part of the Lower Fraser River Valley, this area is an easy day trip from Vancouver but budgeting extra time for an overnight yields some nice surprises. Among them: a riverside B&B, a British-style pub and a free, five-minute cruise across the Fraser.

Unique to the area are the dikes — long stretches of raised earthen mounds surrounded by the rural Pitt Polder, a 217-acre low-lying mix of farmland, marshes and mudflats.

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Dutch dairy farmers settled in the area after World War II, reclaimed the land along the Pitt, Alouette and Fraser rivers and, using techniques perfected in the Netherlands, built the dikes as a method of flood control. Today, locals use the embankments as hiking, biking and horse-riding trails.

Protected marshlands


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Getting there: The Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge area is 30 miles east of Vancouver, B.C., and the drive from the city takes about an hour. From Vancouver, head east on Highway 1 (the Trans Canada Highway) to Highway 7, which becomes the Lougheed Highway.

From Seattle, cross the border into British Columbia at Blaine or Lynden. Follow directions to Fort Langley, where the free Albion Ferry (frequent crossings from 4:30 a.m. until 1 a.m.) transports cars and walk-on passengers across the Fraser River to Maple Ridge. During the day, two ferries, each holding 24 cars, cross the river every 15 minutes. Allow about 45 minutes for the crossing with wait time during rush hour. Alternately, head east from the border toward Abbotsford, then north on Highway 11 and across a bridge in the direction of Mission.

General Information: For general information and a free visitors guide, contact Tourism Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows, 877-465-8300 or see www.mapleridge-pittmeadows.com. Also, Tourism British Columbia at 800-HELLO-BC or www.hellobc.com and www.britishcolumbia.com.

Park and dike information: A map showing the dike networks is available at the Pitt Meadows Visitor Information Centre, 12492 Harris Road in Pitt Meadows (604-460-8300). Descriptions of dike trails in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge can be found at , the Web site for the Trans Canada Trail.

Grant Narrows Regional Park and Kanaka Creek are part of the Greater Vancouver Regional Parks System. Call 604-530-4983.

Golden Ears Provincial Park is 7 miles north of Maple Ridge. Access to the park is via Highway 7. See wlapwww.gov.bc.ca/bcparks.

Lodging: There’s a range of B&Bs, hotels and motels in the area. Contact the tourism office for a list; for B&Bs, see www.bbcanada.com. Rooms at the Riverside B&B on the Alouette River are $65-$120 Canadian (about $46-$86 U.S. at current exchange rates) with a full breakfast served in the dining room or on the riverside deck. Phone: 604-463-3167. Nearby is the Black Sheep Pub & Grill, 23227 Dogwood Ave. Phone: 604-467-9212.

Bike rentals: Bike rentals for exploring the dike network are available from Crosstrails Adventures, 22459 132nd Ave., Maple Ridge, 604-467-8577 or www.crosstrailsadventures.com. The company also rents bikes at Jerry Sulina Park on 210th Street in Maple Ridge near the dikes.

Start your exploration in Grant Narrows Regional Park in Pitt Meadows, 30 miles east of Vancouver, where the Pitt River meets the 16-mile-long Pitt Lake. The park is a wilderness area and wildlife habitat with a large patch of protected marshland called the Pitt-Addington Marsh Wildlife Management Area.

“Walk right out there and you’ll see a couple of osprey on the pilings,” a local man offered as a group of friends and I set out for a two-hour hike on the dikes along a flat, four-mile loop trail.

For the best views, climb one of the wooden observation towers that overlook the lake. The main trail starts out as a wide gravel walkway with water on each side, then changes course and becomes a narrow and wooded muddy path dotted with cattails, pond weeds and blackberry bushes. Along the way, you’re likely to come upon trumpeter swans, herons, beaver dams and flocks of fire-engine-red hummingbirds.

Outside the park, the network of dikes continues with two marked trails, the 6-mile Pitt Meadows Dike Trail and the 1.5-mile Maple Ridge Dike Trail. Both are suited for walking, biking or horse-riding and open to wheelchairs capable of using unpaved paths.

Although much of the area’s agricultural land has been replaced by housing developments and commercial nurseries, some of the dikes still are perched above working farms.

Just a few miles from the strip malls and fast-food restaurants that line Highway 7, the main artery connecting the area to the Trans Canada Highway, is the Riverside Bed & Breakfast, a log-cabin lodge along the Alouette River owned by longtime residents Wilma and Alan Wilson.

Ask about the possibility of a quick hike before dinner and Wilma will point you in the direction of her favorite destination for morning walks: a series of dikes across the road in an area dotted with little pink sheds — pumping stations used for flooding the surrounding cranberry bogs.

Park trails

Beyond the dikes, nearby wilderness parks offer an extensive trail system.

Visible from nearly everywhere in the area are the twin snow-covered peaks of Mount Blanshard inside Golden Ears Provincial Park, with recreation focused on hiking and boating and picnicking on Alouette Lake. Mountain trails lead to lookouts, waterfalls and mountaintops. The park extends north to the southern boundary of Garibaldi Provincial Park.

CAROL PUCCI
Art galleries, shops and cafes make Fort Langley a pleasant place to stop on the way to or from Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge in British Columbia.

If you’re in the mood for a less strenuous walk, head to Kanaka Creek Regional Park, an urban corridor of protected land that stretches seven miles inland from the Fraser River in the heart of Maple Ridge. There’s easy hiking through the woods on trails with picnic areas and arched bridges leading to twin waterfalls.

When it’s time for a break, avoid the chain restaurants and stop instead at the Black Sheep Pub & Grill on Dogwood Avenue, a backstreet north of Highway 7. Settle into a booth near the wood stove and relax with a bottle of Okanagan pear cider and a platter of 99-cent crab legs.

“On weekend nights, it’s so crowded, you can’t even park,” a waitress explained, but on a recent overcast Saturday afternoon, only a handful of tables were taken.

If you have extra time and want to extend your weekend, continue east from Maple Ridge along Highway 7 another 60 miles to Harrison Hot Springs. Otherwise, if you’re headed back to Seattle, consider crossing the Fraser River via the free Albion Ferry that connects Maple Ridge to Fort Langley. Crossing time is about 5 minutes. (Alternately, there’s a bridge at the town of Mission east of Maple Ridge.)

Take time to browse the village shops, art galleries and cafes in Fort Langley, or visit the Fort Langley National Historic Site, a fur-trading post established by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Actors in period costumes guide visitors through various buildings to re-enact life in the settlement in the 1800s.

Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or cpucci@seattletimes.com