The new Black Mountain / sntsk‘il’ntən Regional Park consists of 640 hectares of native Okanagan Valley grasslands, the largest park in the Central Okanagan, with the potential for further expansion. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

Black Mountain / sntsk‘il’ntən Regional Park starts to take shape

Student volunteers from three local schools work on trail building project

Students from three local schools are doing the heavy labour lifting to help construct the first trail for Black Mountain / sntsk‘il’ntən Regional Park.

The 1.95 km loop trail is targeted for completion by Oct. 24 before winter sets in, with it being the catalyst to see the 640-hectare park, larger in size than Stanley Park in Vancouver, opened to the public either this fall or next spring.

Students from the Mt. Boucherie Secondary School Academy of Indigenous Studies, Rutland Senior Secondary and École Dr. Knox Middle School are donating their time to see the trail project completed under the guidance of volunteers from the Friends of Black Mountain / sntsk‘il’ntən Society, regional parks staff and the Westbank First Nation.

The Black Mountain / sntsk‘il’ntən Regional Park is the largest park in the Central Okanagan, at 140 hectares of property the regional district began acquiring in parcels dating back to 2014.

Related: Central Okanagan’s biggest regional park now bigger

With the land acquisition in place, the RDCO looked for community support to see a management plan developed for the park to allow for public access.

Stepping forward to that challenge was the Friends of Black Mountain / sntsk‘il’ntən Society, drawing on a volunteer pool of about 50 people between the society and the society’s associated hiking group.

“This has been a huge project for us to take on and it will be all hands on deck for the next few weeks to see this first trail completed. The regional district doesn’t have the budget to finish the park. They can acquire the land but we have to do the rest,” said society member Ian Pooley.

He said the students’ efforts have already made a positive impact since the trail construction work began on Monday.

“We are already 20 per cent done two days into it so we are making great progress,” he said.

Pooley said the society has been active in applying for grants, securing two grants totalling more than $15,800 from Mountain Equipment Co-op and TD Friends of the Environment to fund the current trail construction project.

The society also secured another $13,000 grant for a fencing project to protect the natural ponds that exist within the park site.

Pooley said the trail will serve two purposes: Provide access to the public of all ages and disabilities to walk a well constructed gravel trail and also to discourage people from walking on the grasslands which are in a state of rehabilitation.

“The landscape grasses have been degraded over time but creating this park will give the a chance to come back,” said Wayne Darlington, RDCO manager of park planning, capital projects and visitors services.

“This is an important area from a conservation perspective, the last natural grassland of its kind in the Central Okanagan and an important part of the wildlife corridor preservation project undertaken by the Okanagan Conservation Collaborative group.”

The corridor stretches from Kalamalka Lake to Naramata along eastern upper bench of the Okanagan Valley, considered important to preserve because climate change is pushing animals to migrate further north and along higher alpine elevations along the valley.

“This park land is critical to our being as humans in general, we need greenspace to connect with and protect us and the vital services it provides,” Darlington said.

Related: Ecological gem preserved

Kyla Winnacott, a teacher at the Mount Boucherie Academy of Indigenous Studies, was joined by 35 academy students on Wednesday working on the trail.

“They are working harder than probably any time in their lives so far, pushing wheelbarrows uphill and spreading gravel, but it brings them back to their cultural roots because of the importance these lands were to their people,” Winnacott said.

She said contributing to the creation of the trail gives them a sense of cultural pride, a tangible contribution they can show their children years from now of what they did to preserve a significant cultural, historic and geographic landmark towering over the eastern boundary of Kelowna.

It is home to at least nine endangered or threatened species and ecological communities including grassland, open Ponderosa pine and grassland savanna.

The property also has additional significance to the syilx/Okanagan people for its wide variety of animals, plants and medicines along with resources for tool making found in the area.

“It is service to yourself and the environment, but they also take from this years from now a respect they will feel for this place because they were a part of making it. If they respect it, their children will learn to respect it, and so will the people they know. I think that is huge,” she said.

Pooley added the park also has historical significance to long-time Kelowna residents as it was the location of the ski bowl in the 1950s, the predecessor to the Big White Ski Resort.

“In the 1950s, the Mervyn brothers built rope tows and created ski runs on what is the park today. The remnants of those rope tows are still up there. This was the glamour spot of Kelowna in the winter at the time where people came to ski,” Pooley said.

“There was a ski chalet and a road was built for trucks with chains to take skiers back and forth to their vehicles. It was quite big at the time but it’s all gone now.”

Doug Mervyn would eventually partner with Cliff Serwa to open Big White with the main t-bar in 1963.

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