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In Saanich, a traffic engineer takes the road less travelled

Paul Butterfield thinks about traffic every minute of every hour of every working day.

Mr. Butterfield is a transportation technician with the District of Saanich. Falling under his purview are such mundane topics as left-turn bays, pedestrian crossings and bicycle lanes. "If it moves," he said, "I deal with it." He knows how long it takes for the lights to change. He knows we're impatient and he knows we wish to avoid fender benders.

Even in his spare time, he rubbernecks at bottlenecks.

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One weekend, he decided to investigate trail crossings intersecting with roads. How was visibility? Was the crossing safe? Were drivers alert? Did cyclists come to a stop?

While making mental notes, he decided to take a break. He wandered through Phyllis Park on scenic Ten Mile Point. He visited four other nearby parks before a new workweek dawned.

"I'd been stressed out from work," he said. "I'd been taking on too many projects.

"That weekend transformed me. I felt so fantastic. I felt healthier after I did it."

He had gone from the noisy, dirty, honking hustle of traffic to the peacefulness of birdsong and babbling brooks and the sea lapping against pebbles.

It struck him that many residents – the aged, the sick, those with mobility challenges – are unable to visit parks. He thought he might be able to recreate the calming pleasure of the park experience in a virtual fashion with a website including still video and sound recordings.

Being a T-crossing, I-dotting engineer, he decided to visit every park in the district. He wanted to know every bucolic refuge, every verdant oasis.

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The list numbered 149, from tiny Agate Park on the waterfront to Wildflower Park in a suburban cul-de-sac.

The district's parks range in size from a suburban backyard to magnificent Mount Douglas Park, which offers 182 hectares stretching from beach to summit. The peak, at 213 metres above sea level, can be reached by a hiking trail, from where a panorama offers breathtaking views of snowcapped Mount Baker to the east, the city to the south, and the Sooke Hills to the west. It was in this park that Emily Carr made her final sketching trip in August, 1942, producing several large oils while staying in a rented cabin. (One of these, Summer, Mount Douglas Park, sold for $287,500 at auction eight years ago.) Another park in the district is named for the painter.

Mr. Butterfield made slow progress through the parks, the names of which can be descriptive (Arbutus, Camas, Ferndale Forest), or downright neighbourly (Annie, Phyllis, Casa Marcia).

He knelt before the beauty at Majestic, King Alfred, and King's Pond parks.

He enjoyed the visual delights at Hyacinth, Marigold, and Strawberry Knoll parks.

He took in the world at Regina, Qu'appelle, Tuscan, Glasgow, and Panama Hill parks.

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He trekked to the top of Mount Douglas and Mount Tolmie parks.

He mucked about Rithet's Bog and Quick's Bottom.

He marvelled at Rainbow and Meadow parks.

He found shade beneath the canopies of Donwood, Faithwood, Kentwood, Maltwood, Autumnwood, Shadywood, and Stoneywood parks.

He made the most of Industrial Buffer Park.

As he neared the end of his quest, Mr. Butterfield learned the district had added new parks since he began.

"They moved the goalposts," he moaned.

The new parks were added to his weekend itinerary. On Sunday, after 25 months, he made the last of his pilgrimages, having visited a total of 158 parks.

Each is described on his blog, Hiking Every Park. He has taken more than 5,000 images and videos of his visits.

"I wanted a sampling of everything," he said. "I have tons of material."

One of the Saanich parks is named for Bruce Hutchison, the famous author and newspaperman whose property, once regarded as being in the countryside, now offers a verdant respite from the hurly-burly of urban life. He was the writer who made popular the use of the word Lotusland, from a Tennyson poem, to describe this corner of the world, the kind of place where a suburban traffic engineer would make it his ambition to visit every local park.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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