Regrounding Riley Park: a Foundation for Sustainable Soil Management

  1. Characterize the soil chemical environment and its modification to enhance plant, animal and human health.
  2. Describe processes of soil genesis, recognize diagnostic features of natural and anthropic soils, and relate management practices to information available for soils of Vancouver.
  3. Discuss the relationship of soil management to Vancouver Park Board policy and community aspirations.

Riley Park is located near the southeast corner of Ontario St. and 30th Ave in an area of Vancouver that is rapidly growing in population and increasingly in need of usable green space for multiple purposes. Subsequent to the move of the Riley Park Community Centre to the Hillcrest Centre and the demolition of the old community centre, ice rink and the Percy Norman Pool; Vancouver Parks and Recreation have carried out a community consultation and design process that has culminated in a redevelopment plan that was officially approved in November 2015. This plan includes development of a youth soccer pitch and challenger baseball field on Hillcrest Park and transportation of soil materials from Hillcrest to Riley Park.

Riley Park native soils have developed in both glacial till (north sector) and glacial marine (south sector) parent materials although the latter is not indicated accurately on the current Vancouver soil map. Most of the north half of the Park was occupied by buildings and will be developed on anthropic soils. You may wish to refer to the paper by Naeth et al 2012 for a perspective on human made soils and their classification. Another useful reference would be Phillip Craul’s 1999 book “Urban Soils: Applications and Practices.”

The task for the APBI urban soil management team is to assess the native or anthropic soil materials in the north quadrant of Riley Park for their ability to support plant growth and management for a range of uses depending on the park plan. These uses include: community garden, green space lawn and planting sites for native plants identified in the future as having potential to provide ecosystem services such as food and cover for pollinators and birds. The community garden site contains a number of trees that were likely affected by soil disturbance and a member of the Riley Park Green Team will be assessing the health of the trees and diagnosing the related soil conditions.

A single soil analysis can provide a snapshot of soil health or quality and be a useful guide for short term soil management; however, sustainable soil management requires longer term monitoring of relevant soil quality variables. Our long term intention for the Riley Park APBI 402 project is to create a data base via regular sampling for soil chemical indicators similar to that done for the UBC Farm.

Learning Objectives

  1. Assess the physical attributes of relevant areas of Riley and Hillcrest Parks (including soil, landscape and microclimate) that could be relevant to Riley Park redevelopment.
  2. Sample and submit soil samples for laboratory analysis (Pacific Soil Analysis Inc.) in support of the initial assessment of soils and anthropic growing media for supporting plant growth. It is imperative that this sampling be done during the week of Feb 20-24th and submitted to the laboratory.


  1. Establish a set of variables to form the basis of soil quality assessment for future management of soils and vegetation in Riley Park.
  2. Sample and submit soil samples for laboratory analysis (Pacific Soil Analysis Inc. in Richmond) in support of the initial assessment of soils and anthropic growing media for supporting plant growth. It is imperative that this sampling be done during the week of Feb 15-19 and submitted to the laboratory. Note: Art will be available during Feb 17-19 to assist with site assessment and sampling.

Useful contacts

Art Bomke, FLFS Professor Emeritus and long time Riley Park area resident. or (604) 874-2479

Varouj Gumuchian, Riley Park Garden Green Team.

Justin Dykstra, Project Manager Vancouver Parks and Recreation. or (604) 257-8403 To respect Justin’s time, please direct any communications to Justin through a designated team member.

Hannah, Lewis, Riley Park Community Garden Coordinator. To respect Hannah’s time, please direct any communications to Justin through a designated team member.

Additional background

PSAI soil data for Super Soil. By Dr. Sandra Brown, Own Work, CC BY 3.0

Garden Soil: The supplier of soil for the community garden is Super Soil, a company in Surrey that accepts soil from excavation sites and constructs growing media for various purposes Soil test results from a recent sample of “soil” similar to what will be delivered to Riley Park are shown below. FYI, the format of this report and the variables included are similar to the 2016 reports done at Riley Park and to the data we will get from 2017 samples except that available boron was not determined and that element is frequently deficient for many vegetables.

Community service opportunity: Last year’s 402/502 groups identified some nutrient issues in Ed’s Garden. It would be a service to our garden group if you could refer to the 2016 soil test results and fertilize the garden beds appropriately. You may wish to consult with Art Bomke on this. Keep receipts for any purchased inputs and you will be reimbursed. Other community service opportunities may occur as the construction of the community garden begins and interested students may participate by contacting the Riley Park Green Team.

On-site Sampling Objectives

On-site visit to assess landscape and soils and sample soils from selected areas of Riley Park.

Probably the most variable and error-prone step in the soil testing process is in field sampling. The goal is to represent the area to be monitored as accurately as possible and to reduce the possibility of including an anomalous area that could skew the results such that the intended sample population is not fairly represented.

A second requirement for making good use of soil testing as a tool for sustainable management is that sampling protocols be similar from year to year and field to field and that good records are kept to enable easy comparison among park areas and identification of trends in the key soil quality variables. We will make available a copy of the 1981 BCMAF publication by John Neufeld (see reference materials in connect) which contains interpretations tables for most of the methods used by Pacific Soil Analysis Incorporated, the local laboratory used by the UBC Farm to analyze its soil samples.

You should familiarize yourself with the biophysical characteristics of Riley Park, including parent materials and the main soil management groups, Bose-Heron, Whatcom-Scat and anthropic. Refer to the soil map of the City of Vancouver for more on the native soils of the site. Vancouver, like most cities has not benefited from a proper soil survey, but our UBC Soils group has produced a first attempt at an urban soil map based on surficial geology mapping and correlating soil parent materials to those described in the publication by H.A. Luttmerding “Soils of the Langley-Vancouver Map Area” and the Soil Management Handbook for the Lower Fraser Valley.

Guiding questions

  1. Describe the processes of the formation or genesis of the Riley Park soils, including the five soil forming factors; parent material, topography, biota, climate and time.
  2. Briefly describe the diagnostic features for each soil that would be significant for management considerations (e.g. soil texture and Bf horizon).
  3. The soil chemical environment derives from the complex interaction of the soil mineral and organic colloids, weathering processes, vegetation and past management. Given the information in the above referenced publications, what are important indicators of its chemical conditions for plant growth? Will a general soil fertility package of analyses, similar to that done for the UBC Farm, suffice for Riley Park?

Learning outcomes

  1. Interpret soil test results for Riley Park soils.
  2. Characterize chemical characteristics for Park soils and potential growing media. What modifications are needed to enhance plant and human health and meet Park land use objectives?
  3. Discuss soil management with respect to the policy of adhering to organic practices in parks and community gardens.
  4. Recommend soil management practices with emphasis on soil chemical indicators, but including other landscape and soil physical properties that interact with the variables.
  5. Describe the policy environment relevant to soil management at Riley Park.
  6. Prepare group presentation.This should include recommendations for future monitoring and research either by APBI 402 or other agents.

Guiding questions

  1. How are your interpretations of soil test results and the resulting recommendations influenced by the various intended land uses within the Park
  2. What influence will the topography and physical characteristics of the native and anthropic soils have on future soil and plant management?
  3. Much of the initial park development is occurring in the middle of our rainy season. What impacts might this have on soils, subsequent plant growth and park development?
  4. Existing and planned trees are an important component of Riley Park redevelopment. A representative of Bartlett’s Tree Experts has volunteered to assist the community garden group with advice on tree health as the park emerges from the reconstruction period and new plantings are made. You are encouraged to familiarize yourself with the Bartlett approach and to consult the following web site for an introduction to City policy for urban trees. You may wish to contact the urban forestry manager and superintendent of operations for answers to specific questions about trees in Riley Park.


  1. Group presentations and synthesis
  2. Prepare individual reports on learning via the Riley Park project.
  3. Summary report for Vancouver Parks and Recreation and community planning group– based on combination of top reports (Community Service; +2 bonus marks for those involved).

Post image: Riley Park-Little Mountain neighbourhood of Vancouver. Arnold C, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons