By Keith Lacey
A nature festival that has celebrated the unique and diverse ecology, habitat and beauty of the South Okanagan is ready to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
The Meadowlark Festival offers 79 tours including hiking, cycling, horseback riding, canoeing, geology tours, astronomy events, children’s programs, film screenings, art exhibitions, aboriginal events, photography, and painting.
The festival is set to start Thursday, May 18 and end Monday, May 22.
Tickets began selling in April and as many as 2,000 nature lovers from across the South Okanagan – and around the world – are expected to take in the fun, said festival coordinator Jayme Friedt.
She noted that tickets are still available to explore the wonders of the Okanagan-Similkameen. Go to www.meadowlarkfestival.ca
Friedt said there are still spot open in several hikes. There’s also the chance to go on a Voyageur canoe tour on Vaseux Lake, and a birding bike ride with bird expert Richard Cannings.
One of the things Friedt is most proud of is that nature lovers from all over the world make the trip to this region to participate in events in the festival.
“Forty per cent of our ticket sales are from people located 300 kilometres away or more,” she said. “We’ve already sold tickets this year to people from all over the West Coast of B.C., northern B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and the United States.
“People who love nature want to be part of one of the most completely unique events in North America.”
The Okanagan and Similkameen valleys boast not only spectacular scenery, but some of the most unique and endangered species of plants, animals “and critters” anywhere in Canada and this holds great appeal to nature lovers, she said.
Many people attending the festival pick out a few events they want to attend, while diehards attend as many events as they possibly can over five days.
Tours and hikes make up a big part of the festival and organizers like to limit participation to less than 30 to allow participants to have direct access to tour guides, said Friedt.
“We want to make the festival an interactive experience where participants can speak directly to the experts,” she said. “Our 20th anniversary roster of events includes some old favourites, as well as some really exciting new tours we’ve added this year,.
“What’s really great about all Meadowlark tours though, is that participants have the opportunity to engage with experts in their fields, including biologists, botanists, historians, traditional knowledge keepers, herpetologists, naturalists and artists, and really learn about the environments they’re exploring!”
This year’s keynote speaker will be Tzeporah Berman, who is one of Canada’s most influential environmentalists.
In her early 20s, Berman faced nearly 1,000 criminal charges and six years in prison for her role organizing blockades in Canada’s rainforest. Today, she is an Adjunct Professor at York University and works as a strategic advisor on climate and energy issues to a number of First Nations, environmental organizations and philanthropic foundations.
“Tzeporah Berman has been instrumental in shaping the modern environmental movement. She’s been profiled as one of 50 Visionaries Changing the World in Utne Reader and was included in the BC Royal Museum permanent exhibit of one of 150 people who have changed the face of British Columbia,” said Friedt.
Berman also works as a strategic advisor on climate and energy issues to a number of First Nations, environmental organizations and philanthropic foundations.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary, the Festival is presenting a Founders’ Gala taking place Saturday, May 20 at the Penticton Golf and Country Club.
Founders Richard Cannings, who is now the South Okanagan-West Kootenay MP, Doreen Olson and Lisa Scott will be recognized for their role in launching the Festival in 1998.
Some of the events at the 2017 Meadowlark Nature Festival taking place in or near Osoyoos and Oliver, include:
* Exploring the Ecology of Mt. Baldy
Wildlife ecologists and writers John and Mary Theberge lead a hike exploring the ecology of the lower to mid slopes of Mt. Baldy. Participants learn about the mountain’s geological and historical past, its forest and vegetation types, and its bird and mammal populations across an elevation rise of 1,000 metres.
* Kililxw Spotted Lake Tour
Aboriginal artist and member of the Osoyoos Indian Band member Ron Hall leads a tour starting at the at Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre where the Centre’s interpreters give a tour of the exhibits and show a short movie Coyote Spirit. Following the movie participants carpool to Kililxw Spotted Lake where Ron will talk about the geology and cultural importance of the lake and its many springs, as well as the history of how it came back into First Nations hands after a hundred years of competing claims.
* The Outback of Oliver Mountain
Oliver Mountain is home to a variety of wildlife and acts a critical refuge for a host of species at risk. Keith Baric, Planner with the Ministry of Environment, leads a tour to explore its unique features including some of the largest tracts of the endangered Antelope Brush ecosystem left remaining in the Okanagan valley.
* Fire and Dry Forests – Past, Present, Future
This tour offers a first-hand look at the role of fire in Okanagan forests – past, present and future. Ecologist Don Gayton and First Nations knowledge keeper Henry Michel tell about the storied West Vaseux area and how Indigenous Peoples Knowledge is linked to Western Science in the management of our ecosystems.