A man-made landscape scar that is visible from East Kelowna can begin to heal now that dirt bikers have been fenced off Bald Range on the Westside.
That’s the commitment of John Glaspie, recreation officer in the Okanagan for the B.C. Forest, Land and Natural Resource ministry, who is now in the process of having the last gaps in a fencing around this popular patch of grassland filled in.
Lush grass sways in the breeze behind the barbed wire fence across one of the deep gouges in the wildflower meadow that is known as Bald Range. It is the northern extent of the Great Basin, which stretches north from Mexico.
Grasslands make up less than one per cent of the habitat of B.C., and much of that is along valley bottoms where building is easy or where grapes and tree fruits grow well.
However, they are an essential ecosystem for grazing animals such as deer and moose as well as for small wildlife like rabbits, pocket gophers and mice. That makes them perfect areas for raptors who rely on populations of small mammals.
In the past few decades, however, the grassy meadow high above Bear Main forest service road on the Westside, has gradually had a number of deep trenches gouged in it as riders left established pathways to forge new, unsustainable, ‘fall line’ trails.
Such trails act as a conduit for water and erosion then wears away the soil, creating creek beds through the meadows and destroying all native vegetation, explained Glaspie.
Once the runoff dries up, the disturbed ground is a magnet for weed seeds and they then infiltrate the remaining grassland. The resulting loss of biodiversity affects all creatures that call grasslands home.
“It’s important to block access to Bald Range; to de-activate those trails and then to restore the native vegetation,” explained Glaspie.
“We’re correcting years of damage.”
As a result, though, he believes not only will this rare grassland be restored to its former biodiversity, but the public’s image of dirt bikers and ATV riders will improve along with it, as this scar on the hillside heals.
“I mean, you can see it from town. We have to make it go away, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he commented.
He emphasizes that although these trails are now closed to motorized use, there is no net loss because a series of new, sustainable trails for dirt bikers have been constructed in the Bear Creek area, including a network of trails in the Jackpine Flats area, just above Bald Range.
Glaspie is responsible for operating dozens of provincial recreation sites in the Okanagan, including this 35,000-hectare multi-use site—the largest in the province.
In addition to the network of trails used by dirt bikers, ATV users and snowshoers, this recreation site, created in 2007, is managed for its timber resources, rangeland, gravel and other mines, and for other recreational uses such as hunting and fishing.
It all began when the Land and Resource Management Plan for the Okanagan-Shuswap was completed in 2000, including a Resource Management Zone for motorized use in the Bear Creek area.
There was years of ingrained use of this area by dirt bikers, Glaspie explained, but many of the trails were not environmentally sound. Several even went directly through creeks—one just above a domestic water intake.
It’s been a stressful and difficult process, but habits are being changed as new trails are constructed and old ones de-commissioned—and it’s been expensive.
With more than $1 million in funding from both provincial and federal governments, including job opportunities programs, Glaspie estimates there are 150 kilometres of trails as well as new staging areas, campsites and amenities such as picnic tables and potties.
But, it is a template for use in other parts of the province, particularly where grasslands have been destroyed by off-road motorized use.
“Motorized recreational vehicles are very popular and that interest is likely to grow,” notes Glaspie.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved and where we’re going,” he adds.
“This has been the most stressful, but the most rewarding task of my career,” he says.