By JESSE RITCEY
Kamloops Naturalist Club
Golf at McArthur Island has come to end. What will come next? To answer that question, the Kamloops Naturalist Club has looked into the past for inspiration. Back before golf. Back even further than the settling ponds and a landfill, there was forest.
All of riverfront Kamloops has been built over this riparian forest. It ran along the Thompson rivers and up the creeks. You can still see fragments of it today near the Halston bridge, the pulp mill, Peterson Creek, and where the rivers meet.
Imagine it as it was for a moment. A mix of willows, wild rose, red osier dogwood, and the keystone species, black cottonwood, towering above it all. Drifts of dazzling wildflowers like purple asters, yellow goldenrod, and showy milkweed for the monarch butterflies. Careful, poison ivy rambled along here too. Only the occasional evergreen was seen as ponderosa pine and douglas fir are ill-suited to life next to a river, where every spring water and sediment spilled over the river banks, exchanging nutrients with this valuable forest zone.
This forest supported so much life! Owls, ducks, woodpeckers, eagles, painted turtles, snakes, deer, foxes, bear, and beaver to name a few. It fed young salmon who visited during high water. The original inhabitants of this valley, the Tk‘emlúpsemc (people of the confluence), understood its cycles completely and it fed them as well. Now it is mostly gone. The same story is echoed all over the interior – trees cleared away for houses or fields and rivers dredged and diked, leaving flood plains parched. Millions of salmon now missing.
People should remember and understand this forest. There should be a place where all ages can go to learn about it. That is what the Kamloops Naturalist Club has in mind for the golf course land.
We hope that time spent here will foster greater appreciation for nature. That people will come away wanting to protect what’s left of the cottonwood riparian ecosystem, the salmon, the water, and the trees. That given the opportunity they’ll support community efforts to restore this ecosystem.
We agree that keeping some of the greens is a good idea. Add some benches under the large weeping willows and it will create a pleasant new park. However, grass needs water and mowing which can get expensive. Returning parts of the space to their natural state also makes sense as it will lower maintenance costs and offer environmental and social benefits.
Studies show that time spent in nature reduces aggression, treats depression and anxiety, and speeds along cognitive development. In our wired society children are said to be suffering from what author Richard Louv calls ‘nature deficit disorder’. They need to spend less time in virtual worlds and more time exploring the real one.
Teachers want to take more lessons out of the classroom so students can engage in hands on learning but McQueen lake is already at capacity. They need an easily reached space within the city.
Unfortunately, most of our wild areas are inaccessible. Park trails are often steep or remote. Highly developed areas like the North Shore offer little within walking distance for seniors and youth.
The 15 acres of land the golf course occupies plus the adjacent trail loop, slough, and wooded area holds the solution.
Imagine a place with a wheelchair-accessible path. Real nature to explore. Educational signs to learn from. Wildflower gardens for our pollinators.
Imagine viewing platforms at the ponds to watch turtles, toads, and tadpoles. Seating for school groups. Classes, guided tours, and group activities for all ages.
There’s projects that the entire family can work together on like releasing salmon fry, building snake hibernaculums, and putting up bat boxes. Learning can continue on weekends and during the summer.
Done well this nature park and education centre can draw in tourists and contribute to Kamloops’ growing reputation as a sustainable, liveable city so we can attract that next tech startup or another oncologist at RIH.
Sports tournaments are great but lots of people are also interested in opportunities for passive recreation, things like pleasant strolls, birdwatching, painting, photography, and immersing themselves in nature. We can offer it all at McArthur Island!
Our club has been busy identifying grants and funding sources, lining up volunteer groups, holding meetings with educators and putting our team of scientists, foresters, horticulturists, biologists, and landscape architects to work developing a concrete plan to make this dream a reality.
The forest we had long ago chopped down and forgotten is ready to send up green shoots. It can teach us incredible things about the natural world and ourselves. Will our community and city council share in this vision?
The Kamloops Naturalist Club urges members of the public to attend the open houses the City of Kamloops is hosting. Whether you wish to speak in support of our vision, the Armchair Mayor’s, or something else entirely, make your voice heard on:
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Northills Shopping Centre, near Interior Savings Credit Union
11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, Main Lobby
You can also stop by the Tournament Capital Centre on Dec. 3-5 to fill out a survey and leave your ideas for City staff.