Before 2012, most Langley residents outside of Glen Valley had never even heard of McLellan Forest or Grey Pit.
By the time winter rolled around, the 25-acre and 21-acre parcels of Township-owned land had made national headlines and drawn celebrities into the fight over their future.
The story of the Glen Valley forests is also the story of the Township's efforts to kickstart a long in the works plan to give Aldergrove an upgraded community centre, complete with its first indoor pool.
In February, Aldergrove residents formed a Pool Committee to give the idea a push.
By the early summer, things were in motion at the Langley Township hall, and two plans for possible pool and rec centre sites were unveiled.
Either plan was based on the purchase of the site of the closed Aldergrove Elementary. The heritage building would be incorporated into a larger complex, complete with a new ice rink, a library, community meeting rooms, and either an indoor or outdoor pool.
The project would cost between $33.4 and $34.8 million, depending on which type of pool was selected.
While Aldergrove residents were generally pleased, and many began lobbying for their preferred, indoor option, the Township brought up the question of how to pay for the plan.
Part of the money was to come from the sale of two properties in Glen Valley, a 21-acre site near 252nd Street and 84th Avenue, and a 25-acre site a short distance to the east.
All the lots there had been acquired decades earlier for non-payment of property taxes. Over the years, the eastern site had become known as Gray Pit, and part of it had been used for gravel extraction by the Township.
The western site had been undisturbed, except by locals who had made paths and dirt bike trails and jumps between the towering trees.
History should have warned Township council that selling either piece of property would not be uncontroversial.
"Gray Pit's neighbours have a history of fighting to prevent development of the land," the Langley Advance wrote in 2009.
A decade earlier, locals convinced the then-council to scrap plans to cut down trees to expand the pit. Instead, the existing pit was dug deeper, and the new pit was turned into a wetland with volunteer labour by the Glen Valley Watershed Society.
Plans to sell the two sections of land quickly generated fierce opposition.
Locals like Albert Anderson of Aldor Acres said the western piece of land, in particular, has been considered a park for years.
By early July, the flood of responses caused the Township council to change their minds about the sale.
"I wanted to thank the hundreds of residents who have written to us, Facebooked, emailed, called, and signed petitions to bring their concerns to our attention," said Mayor Jack Froese.
But the eastern lots were still for sale, the council decided. They announced a $3 million price tag for the collection of properties.
Aldergrove residents, meanwhile, did not take the situation lying down. While Glen Valley and Fort Langley residents were petitioning against the sale of lands, the Aldergrove Pool Committee collected 650 signatures over two days during the Aldergrove Fair on a petition calling for land sales to fund the project.
While some Glen Valley residents suggested that the Township needed green space more than rec centres, there was little venom between the two groups.
The anti-land sale forces swiftly organized themselves into Watchers Of Langley Forces, or WOLF.
The group began leading members of the public on tours through first the McLellan Park site, then the Gray Pit site, which supporters dubbed McLellan Park East.
They began enlisting more members of the public in the campaign, and spreading awareness of the properties led people from other parts of Langley to check out the sites.
Then at the beginning of October, the Township changed its mind again - sort of.
After the Gray Pit lands failed to sell, they offered WOLF a chance to purchase the properties. The asking price was $3 million, and the deadline was Nov. 17, later extended to Dec. 17.
WOLF members were working simultaneously to find partners with the financial resources to help them buy the park, and to turn their informal group into a registered non-profit association.
At the same time, the group continued drawing in more people, both local and from outside the community, to support its cause.
Award-winning Langley poet Susan McCaslin worked with WOLF, and students from Langley Fine Arts spent an afternoon trekking through the woods, later creating art inspired by the experience.
The biggest supporter, however, was Robert Bateman, the iconic Canadian painter of wildlife.
"Whenever I can, I try to get out in nature, because it's good for the health and it's good for the soul," Bateman said, as he visited the forest in the waning days of November.
He added that if there are any issues about protecting natural spaces, "I immediately jump into the breach."
Poets hung their poems in the forest, in emulation of a master of Chinese poetry, and several paintings of the forests were created.
However, neither high-profile supporters nor art could help WOLF find $3 million in two and a half months.
On Dec. 10, WOLF members came to the council chambers again to announce that the would not be able to pay the money.
"Please cancel the sale of these properties and pursue other options to preserve them," said Scott Perry, the chair of WOLF.
At around the same time, the Township "uncoupled" the sale of the Gray Pit land from the creation of the Aldergrove pool and rec centre.
A number of properties may be sold around the Township to help pay for a number of future projects, but no one sale will block the creation of the pool.
As for the sale of the Gray Pit lot, the Township council will revisit the matter in the new year.
@ Copyright 2013