Six years ago, Langley resident and retired businesswoman Ann Blaauw gave a gift of $3.5 million and added another $1.5 million this past summer – totaling in a $5 million donation to Trinity Western University (TWU).
The donations were made to preserve an old-growth forest that would otherwise have been sold for development.
It was the largest donation Blaauw has ever given and one of the largest donations TWU has ever received.
This past year, TWU released The Blaauw Eco-Forest documentary to capture the story behind the forest and to honour Blaauw’s decision and the difference her gift has made.
Created by Ned Vankevich, associate professor of media and communications at TWU, the documentary tells the story of Blaauw and her late husband Thomas – a Langley couple who began their married life farming in the 1960s.
“There’s something magical about it,” Vankevich said about the forest. “It’s a blessing for Trinity to have and it’s easy to navigate with new trails that are wheelchair accessible, so anyone can go.”
The Blaauw’s owned a Glen Valley cranberry farm – the very first in Langley – which was located near a forested parcel of land along the Fraser River. Over the years, Thomas developed a special affinity for the forest’s serene, natural beauty.
“We had a cranberry field just down the road and we drove by here many times – he liked the land, he liked the forest,” Blaauw recounted. “We would take walks in the forest and my husband always wanted to buy it, but it never came up for sale until after he died.”
When the land did go up for sale and there was plans to built lots on the property, Blaauw read a newspaper article that said the forest was more unique than at first anticipated; calling it one of the largest and last old growth forests in the Lower Mainland.
Blaauw said she got to talking with friend about the opportunity and ended up speaking with TWU after realizing she had many friends and connections with the university.
Her financial gift was a way for the family to continue her husband’s legacy of community service, to commemorate what this forest had meant to him, and to keep the forest green for generations to come.
Jack Froese, Mayor of Langley Township, said that several years ago the township deemed this land to be in excess of their needs and decided to put it up for sale.
READ MORE: Glen Valley forest dedicated Tuesday
“We heard from the community pretty fast that this forest was very important to the people who lived around here and to the greater Township of Langley community,” Froese said. “It’s a fantastic story. We found somebody who could come along and help us, to preserve it as a park and for public use, and also for the education of students at Trinity Western University.”
Home to over 200 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and plants, the Blaauw Eco-Forest continues to sustain wildlife today.
TWU classes frequently make use of the eco-forest, using the area as a living outdoor laboratory where samples are collected and restoration projects are conducted.
“He‘d be very happy,” Blaauw said about her late husband. “He’s smiling down at us right now.”
The Blaauw Eco-Forest documentary premiered in the fall of 2019 on the Trinity Western campus at an event celebrating her gift to the university and regional community.
Blaauw was involved with the scripting of the documentary and and final approval, making her an unofficial author of the work.
The documentary also covers the founding of the Guirrhoorn bog, a section of the eco-forest that contains rare specimens of moss.
Despite the daily educational activities, Paul Weme, vice president of development at TWU, stressed that the eco-forest is for everyone, not just students.
“It’s a forest for everyone in Langley,” Weme said. “It’s not as large as Campbell Valley, but there are much older and nicer trees.”
The Blaauw family is still involved with the development of the land, remaining connected to forest.
Ann and Thomas’ daughter built a house near the forest while Ann herself says she still travels past the land at least two or three times a day.
“If I ever need to know what’s going on with the forest, I contact Ann,” Weme laughed.
Blaauw additionally gave $125,000 to construct a boardwalk made of split locks and cedar harvested from the forest.
“It’s eco-friendly,” Weme said, “and all the wood is down. They just have to put down a slip protection so it should be ready at the end of January.”
A gravel pit on the south side of the land is additionally being reclaimed to become part of the old growth forest as well.
The 30-acre Blaauw Eco-Forest is located between 257a and 260 streets in Glen Valley at 84th Avenue.
More information can be found at www.blaauwecoforest.ca.
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