December 2, 2016: Late autumn in Kelowna: another grey sky. Beyond cloudy, actually. It has been snowing overnight—up the valley slopes—for the past several days, and this morning, the foggy line separating white heights from the brown/green bottom is only a couple of dozen meters up the valley from where I sit. A day to stay indoors and catch up on—well—whatever….
I’ve been meaning to write some reflections on how our life has changed in the two years since we moved “up here” from “The Coast.” So much I could cover: traffic oddities like the HOV lane being in the same place as the right turn lane, or how much faster it is to take side roads and avoid Highway 97,(aka Harvey, which coincidentally was my dad’s name)…. Or the inadequate medical care in a city with a first rate hospital and a chronic shortage of GPs. Or the wonderful joys of spring and autumn, and the odd discomfort of searing mid-summer and the tourist invasion, not to mention the occasional flood or wildfire, or the tedium of winter days where the sun is perpetually obscured by sullen clouds. Or the maxim we adopted shortly after we figured it out: stop complaining; you’re in Kelowna; you’ll get used to it—and you’ll love it!
And we do love this city, especially our corner of it so close the Lake and the city’s main recreational facilities. And, for us particularly, great places for birding, photography, or long walks that begin right outside the door.
I must not, obviously, write a post covering so many topics.
I will focus on local amenities, illustrated with some images made since we arrived in autumn 2014.
And how change fits into this picture….
In the Okanagan Valley, Kelowna (including West Kelowna and West Bank on the other side of the lake) is growing faster than its nearest neighbour cities, each about 50 minutes away by car, Vernon to the north and Penticton to the south. While change is often synonymous with growth, “progress” may also threaten situations or phenomena we hold dear. In the case of the Okanagan Valley, I’d rather live where I do than in either of the other two cities aforementioned. Perhaps I’ll feel differently in five years. Or not, because who knows whether I’ll even be here in five years…. Suffice to say, I realize that we’re enjoying the benefits of growth in the recent past (which I’ll illustrate presently) and simultaneously growing mildly anxious about new developments around us (also to be identified in Part 2) that we may not like so much.
Both my wife and I love hiking along the Greenway that flanks Mission Creek (see map below), and Thomson and Michaelbrook Marshes, or, in the other direction, along Belmont Ponds and Park. Because their development predated our arrival, it feels as if they have always been here. Of course, that’s not true. The Greenway has been developing since 1996. It’s hard to imagine the area as it was back then.
“The Phase 1 Greenway project was announced in 1996 and was the most successful community funded project in Kelowna’s history. Landowners along the Greenway donated in excess of 16 acres of land valued at more than $300,000. Phase 1 project extends from Lakeshore Road to Ziprick Road, a distance of 7.3 kilometres, and was completed in 1998. It is a universal access trail that is well used all year by walkers, hikers, runners, bicyclists, wheelchair users, and equestrians. Usage is estimated at over 1,000 people a day.”
Phase 2, commenced in 2005 “after the loss of so many area trails as a result of the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire” added another 9.2 kilometres of greenway to the mid section of the creek. Phase 3 began in 2015 and is ongoing.
In addition to the expansion of the Greenway as a whole, 2015 also marked the beginning of the Mission Creek Restoration Initiative, which aims in “[Phase] 1 [to] renaturalize floodplain function by realigning a 500-metre section of dike on the south side of the creek between Casorso Road and Gordon Drive. Fish and wildlife stocks will be increased by enhancing their habitats within the expanded floodplain. This includes increased gravel stability within a section of Mission Creek that provides the most valuable kokanee spawning habitat within the entire watershed, as well as improvements to riparian habitat for a wide range of wildlife species.
Stage 2 [not yet started, Dec. 2016] will restore important
fish habitat features within Mission Creek, including
meanders, pools, and overhead cover.
This will increase rearing areas for kokanee [image right]
and rainbow trout, and includes areas of refuge from
high temperatures during summer low-flow periods,
and from predators such as osprey, blue herons, ducks, and racoons.
To view enlarged images below, click on each one. To close, click the X at top right of enlarged photo.
As well as restoring fish habitat over time, the dike realignment and resulting floodplain expansion is expected to provide other benefits such as reduced erosion and flood risks, enhanced wildlife migration corridors,improved water quality, recharged groundwater supplies, expanded recreational opportunities, and increased economic impacts.”
The point is that we enjoy tremendously this ongoing development project and look forward to the promised benefits. Whether they materialize or not, of course, depends on time, money, and effective management. Lots of locals are betting on success.
The Greenway is only one of the recent projects that we have become so fond of. In researching for this post, I’ve learned that Kelowna has an even longer history of seeking to protect and enhance the larger community. The Central Okanagan Foundation, instituted in 1977, (Inspiring Others To Give | Central Okanagan Foundation) with city and other support, created in 1990, a land trust that by 2007 had evolved into the Central Okanagan Land Trust [COLT]. (History | Central Okanagan Land and Trust)
In the early 90s, “the Thomson families in the Mission area of Kelowna donated 4.5 acres to the City of Kelowna and requested COLT hold a covenant on the property. This transaction was finally completed in 2006.” COLT has done a great deal more as well, but I’ll focus on Thomson Marsh (see Neighbourhood Map above) as it’s most relevant to us.
“In 1990, Gifford and Brenda Thomson and Ken and Dorothy Thomson decided they wanted to preserve a sanctuary of land surrounding Thomson Brook where it flowed through a portion of their Gordon Road farm which they were selling to the City of Kelowna for a community recreation facility [now Mission Recreation Fields].
They wished to ensure that wetland habitat was preserved undisturbed, for birds and wildlife, in perpetuity. They had a long-time involvement in the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club and Brenda was the first President of the Friends of Mission Creek who initiated the Mission Creek Greenway project. She was also a COLT director for a short time.
In 1993, the family made a donation of 4.5 acres to the Trust when the land was sold to the city, but the specific site was not determined until work on the land was complete. In the interim, a receipt was issued by the City, with the idea that the sanctuary would be transferred to COLT when the boundaries were identified. In the end, in lieu of ownership, COLT holds a ‘no disturb’ preservation covenant on the property that was agreed on with the city in 2005.
Today, the watercourse through the property takes up more than the original acreage and the whole length of Thomson Brook is a sanctuary, in addition to the wetland. Adjacent to Thomson Marshes, the City has created an arboretum with a walkway between the access road for the Capital News Centre recreation complex and the waterway and wetland. COLT conducts annual inspections of the sanctuary to ensure the conditions from the original baseline inventory prepared by Biologist Nicole Thomas in September 2004 are maintained”
(History of Properties | Central Okanagan Land and Trust).
So, to come to the point, the environment we’ve been so lucky to plunk ourselves into has only come into its present form in the last 10 to 20 years. And it continues to evolve beneath our feet. It won’t be the same as it is now in another 10 to 20. Change waits for none of us.