The Creston Valley Wildlife Area has a big secret that most visitors miss.
It’s definitely a popular area, and Rand McNally editors for the famous North American road atlas have even designated it as a 2009 “Best of the Road” location.
But that isn’t the secret.
The management area found in southeastern British Columbia and only 30 miles from the U.S. border attracts not only wildlife but also people. Annually 35,000 visitors worldwide come to explore and enjoy this place. So, what is the draw that makes this a desirable place for animals, birds, amphibians and humans?
Years ago local duck hunters recognized that the Creston Valley wetlands were a great place to get their share of ducks. They wanted to keep it that way and began acquiring land where waterfowl were found especially in the fall and spring.
Since then these wetlands have been determined to be a historic major stopover for waterbirds using the Pacific flyway from California, north to Alaska, the Arctic Ocean and the Canadian Northwest Territories.
Over 100,000 birds during the migration season use the valley to rest and feed. In 1994 it was designated as an international significant wetland. The Canadian government has established and set aside 17,000 acres including a large lake, 17 marshes, and a section of a major river.
Using intense wildlife management, building dikes and water gates to control the ground water levels so that nests built on the ground don’t float away has given the area a rich reward of a large and a diverse selection of habitat and wildlife. On any given day the area is teeming with wildlife activity.
Spring is an ideal time to visit. There are thousands of tundra swans and greater white-fronted geese with an occasional trumpeter swan thrown into the mix.
Tundra swans are amazing to watch. They are large, white birds with long graceful curved necks. Although smaller than trumpeters, tundra swans have an impressive wing span of 66 inches. Seeing large numbers flying and landing on the water in formation is a natural event that everyone should see at least once.
As if this is not enough, at the refuge is a mix of other migrating water birds like Bufflehead, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Pintail and many others.
The dense number of waterfowl also attracts and supports a large predator population. There are at times 50 bald eagles and various hawks. Coyotes, skunks, and other mammals also take advantage of the abundant food opportunities including bird eggs. Bird watchers will be interested to know that there are six species of grebes and rare forester’s terns nesting here.
This wildlife management refuge also is an important Amphibian and Reptile area. Hard to find at other locations, the Western painted turtle can be seen sunning on logs near the refuge center. Also the endangered Northern leopard frog is found here. This frog is as big as your hand with beautiful colorful white rimmed spots on its back. Carla Haegele, responsible for stewardship and communications, says a fun experience at the refuge is to visit as it is getting dark and listen to the familiar tree frogs overlaid with the very deep croak of the leopard frogs.
There are over 286 species of birds, 57 species of mammals and 29 species of fish, reptiles and amphibians, which all add up to an exceptional wildlife experience.
The refuge offers visitors plenty of ways to view wildlife. With a permanent staff and numerous trained volunteers no one has to do this refuge alone or without help.
Wildlife Interpretation Center
This is a good place to get started before venturing out into the wet lands. Free orientation maps, bird and animal lists can be picked up, field guided excursions, and questions will be answered here. There are educational exhibits, science lab activities, lecture and video presentations to help acquaint those who want to take the time. Services like washrooms, gift shop, snack bar and picnic shelter are found here.
There are over 32 kilometers of trails at the refuge. Some trails consist of wooden boardwalks that are handicap accessible. One easy walk leads to one of two wooden three-story wildlife viewing towers which provide a 360-degree view of the southern end of the wet lands and the wildlife flying, feeding and scurrying below. Even owls may be found roosting on the tree limbs. With a map from the center with various loop trails and distances marked, a planned half-day hike can be followed.
A canoe is a great way to view the wildlife because the water canals give access to the interior wetlands where others can’t go. The water approach and the tall grasses provide a quiet, hidden approach to the wildlife. The refuge provides guided, interpreted trips in long canoes. An hour trip costs adults $7 and children under 12 $5. Members of the refuge association get a $2 discount.
Bass fishing is good on Duck Lake. Non-motorized boats are allowed including small electric powered craft. There are also perch and sunfish in the shallow, summer warmed water.
Secret of the Creston Valley Wildlife Area
The refuge is divided by a major highway (B.C. Highway 3). The center, boardwalk, canoe trails and most of the guided activities are on the south end of the refuge. Many visitors don’t realize that there is a very large lake and most of the refuge lies north of the highway. During the spring migration thousands of water fowl are on Duck Lake, which may be more appropriately called Swan Lake. Ask for driving directions to the north end for some spectacular birding.
The Canadian Experience
For those who never have been across the border into Canada, this trip is a good ice breaker. Crossing the border into another country is always an interesting proposition. Canada uses the metric system which is encountered just over the border because car speed must be converted from miles per hour to the posted meters per hour.
For example 50 mph equals about 80 km/h. Sizes of plants and animals will be described in centimeters rather than inches. In small towns like Creston there are a refreshing number of owner-operated cafes and restaurants rather than national franchises.
Likewise, motels are simple, clean and locally owned. One example is the Sunset Motel 250-428-2229 in Creston, in the fruit orchard district.
It is important to have, for now, birth certificates for everyone in the car to be presented to U.S. customs when returning across the border. In the future, passports or passes will be required.
Canadian money also makes a trip over the border interesting. Look out for the Looney! A trip into Canada and a visit to the refuge is a great overnight getaway for the entire family.
IF YOU GO
Season: Open all year, the center and guided activities run May 12-Oct 11
Fees: $3 adult
Web Site: www.crestonwildlife.ca”
Est. Miles from Spokane: 158