September 15, 1996

Great, Wild North British Columbia Preserves Vast Expanses Of Untouched Land For Future Generations

Rich Landers Outdoors Editor
 

There’s a big difference between southeastern British Columbia and similar country across the border in the United States. About 80 years worth.

Vast areas of the region known as the Kootenays have escaped major development. Sprawling drainages remain unroaded. Mile after mile of lakeshore are only lightly developed. Grizzly bears are still common and legally hunted. Kokanee still run in red swarms up clear spawning streams.

When people in a region like this get a notion to preserve some wild land, they can still do it in a big way.

The region includes well-known national parks such as Revelstoke and Glacier in the West Kootenays and Kootenay and Yoho in the East Kootenays.

Last year, however, provincial agencies culminated several years of land-use planning debate by protecting an additional 975,000 acres in the Kootenay region.

Now there’s 2.76 million acres of parks and preserves in the Kootenays, which includes the breathtaking real estate from the U.S. border to the elbow bend in the Columbia River north of Revelstoke. From the Alberta border, the region includes the stunning Purcell, Selkirk and Monashee mountains westward almost to the Okanagan Valley.

The move to preserve some of the premier forest lands doesn’t mean all wildlife and land resources are in perfect harmony with local resource industries.

“Some logging companies were going full bore,” said one Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks employee in Nelson, who asked to remain anonymous. “They figured that if they got all the logs out, there would be no more need to debate whether the areas should be protected.”

Indeed, protecting some premier wildlife and natural areas may come at a steep price. A bold march is on to clearcut the scenic backdrop to popular tourist areas, such as the east shore of Slocan Lake.

While conservationists press pamphlets into the hands of tourists, the people charged with managing the new parks have their own headaches.

“Right now, we’re just barely in the master planning phase,” said Gord McAdams, spokesman for BC Parks in Nelson. “We have to figure out what we have first. That will take awhile, but we’re pretty happy just to land bank some of these areas for a while.”

Many of the new parks and park additions are wilderness in a sense that America lost a century ago.

“There are places in Granby and Goat Range parks with zero official trails in 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres),” McAdams said. “You get around on goat trails.”

But in other ways, British Columbia and the United States are much alike.

“We got no added staff or dollars when these parks were designated, so you can see the going is going to be quite slow as far as development,” McAdams said.

The Kootenay region employs only about 40 people to manage the area’s provincial parks.

“Parks people get pretty scattered,” said Jim Gillman, 37, who quit the parks division last year after 18 years with the agency.

Nine years ago, Gillman was one of three rangers assigned to what was then a newly designated Valhalla Provincial Park in the heart of the Kootenay region.

“We were every manager’s worst nightmare,” he said. “We never did anything quite like we were told. They just turned us loose. They didn’t want to know how we did it, but they knew the job would get done.”

Sometimes the rangers did a little more than the job called for - like building an unauthorized trail to Mulvey Basin.

“I kind of got my rear in a sling about that one,” Gillman said.

Mulvey Basin is a small alpine lakes area surrounded by stunning granite spires. The basin had long been the lonesome haunt of grizzly bears and only the hardiest climbers willing to claw through brush and devil’s club. But when a logging road was bulldozed within two miles of the park boundary, the number of backcountry travelers heading to Mulvey Lakes steadily increased.

“It’s the chicken and the egg thing,” McAdams said. “You have climbers going in and creating their own trails. You have a staff that wants to organize it. But there was resistance because we know if we build a trail we open the flood gates to a fragile alpine area.”

Said Gillman, “A few of us couldn’t stand by and watch people stamp a poorly thought out route that went into wet areas and grizzly habitat. There was going to be a trail to Mulvey one way or another, so we decided to do it right.”

But trails - good or bad - are rare in Kootenay region provincial parks.

“The high country is pretty much as it should be,” Gillman said.

The lowlands have taken some major hits from dams, mines and other industry, yet there are some remarkably well-preserved natural features even in the valleys.

Slocan Lake, for example.

This 40-mile gem forms the eastern border of Valhalla Provincial Park, giving the area a multi-dimensional diversity that shoots up dramatically to peaks that loom above the clear waters.

Visitors can use some guidance in this country.

Barry and Judy Derco at Lemon Creek Lodge, a popular base for people zeroing in on Valhalla and Kokanee Glacier parks, are accustomed to helping guests ferret out the possibilities.

They range from canoeing the nearby Slocan River, sea-kayaking on Slocan Lake, hiking the backcountry, mountain biking or joining outfitters for horseback trips.

The lodge is situated on a flat along the Slocan River steeped with the history of Japanese internment camps and mining towns that once boosted the Slocan Valley’s population to many times the current number.

Gillman’s family has ridden the valley’s industries for four generations. But Jim Gillman is banking his future on the wilderness, the commodity that has held its value through the whims of the local economy.

He rents canoes and kayaks through his Smiling Otter outfitter service. He guides kayakers on Upper Arrow Lakes and other trips, occasionally packing along his daughters, ages 3 and 5.

He leads custom backcountry hiking trips along off trail-routes, such as a fabulous but hairy eightday epic along the spine of the Valhallas from Drinnon Lakes to Wee Sandy Creek.

“Valhalla is a misleading park to travel in,” he said. “When you look at a map, you see all kinds of easy routes. But there are a lot of rock slabs that don’t show up on maps. They make it difficult to navigate through the mountains without experience.”

Gillman has some regret that Gwillim Lakes and Mulvey Basin are becoming increasingly popular.

“But outside those areas, Valhalla is pretty much unchanged,” he said. “That’s the reward for having no trails.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Color photos Map: New British Columbia parks

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. IF YOU GO… Reliable contacts for visits to Slocan Lake and the Valhallas include: Smiling Otter Kayak and Canoe in Slocan, (604) 355-2373. Lemon Creek Lodge near Winlaw, (604) 355-2403. British Columbia Parks in Nelson, (604) 825-3500. New Denver Chamber of Commerce, (604) 358-7274.

2. NEW BRITISH COLUMBIA PARKS GRANBY Size: 102,000 acres Location: About 80 miles east of Vernon Values: Protects headwaters of Granby River, one of few remaining undisturbed watersheds in region. Includes old-growth cedar and alpine country. Currently has trails, but no facilities. GLADSTONE Size: 98,000 acres Location: About 15 miles northeast of Grand Forks Values: Protects low elevation winter big-game winter range and kokanee spawning waters as well as alpine areas. Includes trails and water recreation at north end of Christina Lake. SYRINGA Size: 11,000 acres Location: About 15 miles west of Castlegar Values: Major addition to existing 565-acre park protects beaches, grasslands, steep canyons and cliffs important to bighorn sheep, elk and deer, plus lowland Douglas fir forests found only in this part of the province. Pre-existing park included campground, boat launch trails, but added acreage undeveloped. LOCKHART Size: 9,400 acres Location: East of Nelson on east side of Kootenay Lake Values: Protects intact watershed, fish habitat and old-growth forest ranging from Kootenay Lake to alpine meadows. Includes trails. KIANUKO Size: 29,000 acres Location: About 25 miles north of Creston Values: Protects headwaters of Kianuko Creek and small alpine lakes plus important habitat for fish, caribou, moose and grizzly bears. No facilities. WEST ARM Size: 633,000 acres Location: East of Nelson and south of West Arm of Kootenay Lake Values: Protects diverse habitats, including lake shore, old-growth forests, alpine areas and internationally significant habitat for grizzlies and mountain caribou. Includes trails. KOKANEE GLACIER Size: 80,000 acres Location: About 20 miles northeast of Nelson Values: Addition of 15,500 acres to existing park protects key grizzly habitat in high alpine park that includes more than 30 lakes. Existing park included trails, lakes stocked with rainbow trout, cabins. PURCELL WILDERNESS CONSERVANCY Size: 499,000 acres Location: About 15 miles southwest of Invermere Values: Addition of 87,400 acres to the east side of existing park, plus 81,700 acres to west side helps protect diversity of one of southeast British Columbia’s largest intact ecosystems. Area includes lowland big-game winter range to glaciated peaks. Important habitat for elk, grizzlies, mountain goat, mule deer and numerous other creatures, including native cutthroat trout. Already includes trail systems and outfitter cabins. GOAT RANGE Size: 197,000 acres Location: About 15 miles northeast of New Denver Values: Additions to existing park protects old-growth forests and extensive alpine meadows and lakes providing habitat for grizzlies, elk, mountain goats and caribou. Also protects rearing habitat for Gerrard rainbow trout and an important spawning channel for Kootenay Lake kokanee. Source: British Columbia Environment, Lands and Parks

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. IF YOU GO… Reliable contacts for visits to Slocan Lake and the Valhallas include: Smiling Otter Kayak and Canoe in Slocan, (604) 355-2373. Lemon Creek Lodge near Winlaw, (604) 355-2403. British Columbia Parks in Nelson, (604) 825-3500. New Denver Chamber of Commerce, (604) 358-7274.

2. NEW BRITISH COLUMBIA PARKS GRANBY Size: 102,000 acres Location: About 80 miles east of Vernon Values: Protects headwaters of Granby River, one of few remaining undisturbed watersheds in region. Includes old-growth cedar and alpine country. Currently has trails, but no facilities. GLADSTONE Size: 98,000 acres Location: About 15 miles northeast of Grand Forks Values: Protects low elevation winter big-game winter range and kokanee spawning waters as well as alpine areas. Includes trails and water recreation at north end of Christina Lake. SYRINGA Size: 11,000 acres Location: About 15 miles west of Castlegar Values: Major addition to existing 565-acre park protects beaches, grasslands, steep canyons and cliffs important to bighorn sheep, elk and deer, plus lowland Douglas fir forests found only in this part of the province. Pre-existing park included campground, boat launch trails, but added acreage undeveloped. LOCKHART Size: 9,400 acres Location: East of Nelson on east side of Kootenay Lake Values: Protects intact watershed, fish habitat and old-growth forest ranging from Kootenay Lake to alpine meadows. Includes trails. KIANUKO Size: 29,000 acres Location: About 25 miles north of Creston Values: Protects headwaters of Kianuko Creek and small alpine lakes plus important habitat for fish, caribou, moose and grizzly bears. No facilities. WEST ARM Size: 633,000 acres Location: East of Nelson and south of West Arm of Kootenay Lake Values: Protects diverse habitats, including lake shore, old-growth forests, alpine areas and internationally significant habitat for grizzlies and mountain caribou. Includes trails. KOKANEE GLACIER Size: 80,000 acres Location: About 20 miles northeast of Nelson Values: Addition of 15,500 acres to existing park protects key grizzly habitat in high alpine park that includes more than 30 lakes. Existing park included trails, lakes stocked with rainbow trout, cabins. PURCELL WILDERNESS CONSERVANCY Size: 499,000 acres Location: About 15 miles southwest of Invermere Values: Addition of 87,400 acres to the east side of existing park, plus 81,700 acres to west side helps protect diversity of one of southeast British Columbia’s largest intact ecosystems. Area includes lowland big-game winter range to glaciated peaks. Important habitat for elk, grizzlies, mountain goat, mule deer and numerous other creatures, including native cutthroat trout. Already includes trail systems and outfitter cabins. GOAT RANGE Size: 197,000 acres Location: About 15 miles northeast of New Denver Values: Additions to existing park protects old-growth forests and extensive alpine meadows and lakes providing habitat for grizzlies, elk, mountain goats and caribou. Also protects rearing habitat for Gerrard rainbow trout and an important spawning channel for Kootenay Lake kokanee. Source: British Columbia Environment, Lands and Parks


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