Second phase of Kelowna creek restoration project nearing completion

Another leg of the revitalization of Fascieux Creek that's situated behind KLO Middle School will soon be complete

Tucked behind KLO Middle School, life is emerging from what was once little more than a sterile stretch of concrete and grass.

A somewhat newly meandering portion of Fascieux Creek, fit with a tiny pond, is home to birds of all different kinds, an incubation ground for turtle eggs, and a pathway for fish to snack en route to Okanagan Lake.

Counting up all the creatures and plant species building a life around the pond and naturalized 70-metre stretch of the creek that’s unromantically called Phase I would be a daunting task for most, but one that Darryl Arsenault, a fisheries biologist with Golder Associates, could likely do with ease.

Arsenault has been helping oversee the creek’s transformation since the project—which was conceived when students found Western painted turtle eggs in the school’s long jump pit in 2011—came together.

And he’s been there working, ripping up weeds and planning up new ways to make life better for all types of life in the creek, ever since.

Even more so over the last few weeks, as Phase II got underway.

“We have put a lot into this,” he said Thursday morning.

“We like to see kids have something natural and we want to give them something to cherish that’s not just concrete and grass…maybe it will give someone an opportunity to do something in their future, like becoming a biologist, that they didn’t know existed.”

When the KLO Middle School kids go back to school in September, the newest 100-metre phase of the site—soon to be fit with a bridge and an island—will be reshaped to align with the portion that’s currently gurgling with life.

Water that was siphoned off as the heavy-labour part of restoration got underway this month, will flood the creek as students once again get a chance to foster their inner biologists by observing the creatures that live in the space and planting vegetation natural to the environment.

Cottonwood and willow trees will likely be planted, offering shade for future generations.

Already, Arsenault has a new willow tree rising from the turtle pond in the restored section of the creek.

“I found a dead stump at the dump, and I planted it here and it’s come to life,” he said.

As he walked along the banks of the creek, ripping up the sprouts of invasive Siberian elm, he discovered that a cottonwood tree had taken root.

“This is a really good sign that it’s coming back all by itself,” he said, his enthusiasm palpable.

“It’s amazing….As soon as you add water, you get soup and you get life.”

It’s a far cry from what was there before.

Like all urban areas, Fascieux Creek was altered to meet the needs of its settlers.

It was once likely a wetland nearly 50 metres wide, but when farmers moved in it was narrowed so they’d have more agricultural land.

Somewhere in its history, it became a dump, he said.

Then it was a schoolyard and sports field.

For that last reason, there was a contingent of teachers opposed to the restoration program, when another teacher first pitched the idea, he said.

“They didn’t want it to get in the way of PE,” Arsenault said, adding that they’ll be fencing around the creek by the end of September, to minimize the contact between sports being played and the creek running through the area.

All versions of land use have been made evident as the process of restoration has moved forward, said Arsenault, noting that peat, old newspapers, and even silverware have been found on the site.

But most everyone alive today would likely only remember water being diverted through culverts and covered by large pavers.

The most recent version of what’s happening is being welcomed by the community.

Two women who were walking through Thursday, stopped to speak with Arsenault about what’s being done, and sang the praises of the project.

“I think it’s going to be beautiful,” said Hilda Hecko.

Her friend added that they’ve been watching the area with some concern for awhile, and what’s being done today is welcomed.

The restoration project, including the value of in-kind contributions and volunteer labour, will cost about $400,000. The biggest contributors have been the BC Wildlife Federation and the Okanagan Water Basin Board.

A grand opening will be held next month, when the water floods through the space and the students get back to learning from the land.

 

Kelowna Capital News