Imagine the Okanagan without its parks.
Whether it’s just a small magical wild ravine or a vast hillside covered in spring wildflowers overlooking a panorama of Okanagan Lake and the hills rising from it on the other side—conserving at least bits of our wild lands, the native Okanagan environment—is vital.
It may not seem vital if you’re trying to make money by building homes on it, or if you’d prefer that a stream didn’t flood your land every spring; or that wildfires weren’t a danger from the beetle-killed dry timber on wild land adjacent to yours, but it still is.
It is in the natural environment, amongst green trees and bushes and colourful wild flowers; within the sound of birds chirping, water burbling over stones or washing against the shore; smelling sunshine on pine resin or the tang of sagebrush, that we can find peace within ourselves.
And, my experience that this is so, has now been proven repeatedly by science; to the point that author Richard Louv has coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder to describe the importance of both children and adults experiencing nature in their daily lives.
That’s just one of the roles of our parklands, whether they be city, regional or provincial; small neighbourhood parks or vast provincial ones.
Another role is the protection of fish and wildlife native to this valley, and all the other critters and the habitat required to keep the web of life whole and functioning.
They must all have access to clean air and water, just as we must, and we need these natural wild lands to help keep both air and water clean and pure for them and for us.
So, whether it’s so that both we and our children and grandchildren can experience nature on a daily basis to keep us healthy in mind; to conserve lands and waters as habitat for native fish and wildlife; or to protect that same habitat to preserve the quality of our air and water—parks are incredibly valuable.
Overall, our parks provide ribbons and islands of green to break up the sea of asphalt and concrete that our cities and urban areas are composed of.
I believe the more parkland and natural environment we preserve the wealthier we are.
And that’s why I’ve volunteered my time for the past dozen years or so as a member of the board of the Central Okanagan Land Trust.
So, this week I was cheering inside as we announced our agreement with the Central Okanagan Regional District to take on the management of 324 hectares of rolling benchland; rugged climbing cliffs; small wetlands and seeps; secretive, shady ravines; grasslands with panoramic views out over Okanagan Lake; stream edges and stumps left by the Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire, as a new regional park—the Johns Family Nature Conservancy Regional Park on the south slopes of Kelowna.
Even more exciting was the further announcement by Steve Thomson, forests, lands and natural resources minister, and a man who played on that land as a boy, that the amount of acreage in that park will essentially be doubled with the addition of 314 hectares of Crown land being designated for public recreational use only, limiting the activity that can take place on the two parcels.
That ties the new regional park into Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park to the south, as well as Cedar Mountain Regional Park to the north, and provides a corridor of wild land across the south slopes for wildlife to roam, trees to grow, and water to run, unchanneled by man.
We all owe the Johns family an enormous debt of gratitude for making the decision to conserve those lands in their natural state for future generations. It’s a legacy this community will always remember, that they bequeathed that land, because they loved it, to COLT for their community.
Next step is to complete a management plan for the land, so it won’t be open to the public immediately, although the adjacent Cedar Mountain Regional Park part of it will continue to be open.
I hope their gift will be an inspiration to others.
Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.