Mill Lake itself was the site of a lumber mill around 1900 with a small trestle crossing the lake at the west end for a narrow gauge train to hall the logs to the mill. The remains of the pilings of the trestle are still visible today. The mill was active until the 1930’s when the surrounding area had been mostly logged and the Great Depression reduced the markets for its lumber. The mill was dismantled but much debris littered the shore of the lake and there were many sunken logs left behind. In the 1940’s a local service club and the District of Matsqui (as it was then known) began a cleanup and reclamation of the lake to serve as a community recreation area. Eventually the City purchased properties to complete the pathway that circles the lake today. Today there are several picnic sites, playgrounds and a swimming pool in the park. There is also an art gallery and museum located at the east part of the park off Ware Street. The lake is stocked with trout and the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. has designated the lake as a part of the "Fishing in the CIty" program. Western Painted Turtles, an endangered species of turtle native to B.C. are found here.
Although the park surrounding the lake is busy with walkers, joggers and cyclists, it still affords some good birding opportunities especially early in the morning and on weekdays when it is not so busy. There are many points around the lake to observe and get good photographs of the birds.
Spring is the most productive time for birding, however there are many species in and around the park year round. Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks nest in the park and in the spring there are many opportunities to view goslings and ducklings as they develop.
The lake is home to a pair of resident Bald Eagles who nest in a large tree in the northwest part of the park and can often be observed in the cottonwood trees along the shore of the lake. The treed areas at the west end of the lake and along the south and east shores are good areas for smaller species of birds. The bush and reeds near the Northeast corner by the floating boardwalk are good areas for hummingbirds, Bushtits, Red-winged Blackbirds and other small birds. It is also where you will often find a Great Blue Heron or a Belted Kingfisher. This area is one of the best places to find Ruddy Duck in the area during the fall and winter months. There are also several dirt paths off the main path that lead into the bush area on the southeast corner of the lake and afford opportunities to observe woodpeckers and smaller species of birds.
~Text and photographs by Neal Doan - November 26, 2014