On Monday, May 27 more than 30 national board and senior staff members of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) toured the South Okanagan, including the area proposed for the national park reserve, guided by conservationist Doreen Olson and other local partners.
“We’re very excited about this opportunity to learn firsthand about the amazing natural landscapes and wildlife in the South Okanagan that would be protected within the proposed national park reserve. That’s why we chose to hold our spring meeting in the region. We have people flying in from as far away as Nova Scotia and the Yukon, and pretty much everywhere in between,” said CPAWS national board president Oliver Kent.
Kent, who lives in Ottawa, visited the area last summer while on a bike tour. “As a cyclist, you’re very aware of terrain – both the gently rolling farmlands of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys and the steep bluffs on either side . . . it is amazing that you have Canada’s only “pocket desert” right here in BC.”
Kent said protecting some of this extraordinary landscape as a national park would encourage other Canadians to explore and cherish it as well.
Nicola Hill, executive director and staff of the CPAWS – British Columbia chapter have been working with locals within the South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network for the past decade to support the creation of the park. “This is our last best chance to save what remains of this rare ecosystem and the unique species it hosts. Assigning it national park status will create a beacon for tourism, attracting visitors and associated spending,” said Hill.
Some of the tour highlights included visits to White and Vaseux Lakes, Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, South Okanagan Wildlife Management Area, and the Okanagan River Restoration Initiative.
With the local First Nations having announced in February that they believe a national park is feasible, based on an extensive study and consultation effort, the last piece of information is in place for the province to re-engage in the national park establishment process, Olson said.