By Richard McGuire
Special to the Chronicle
Several dozen parks supporters made the long drive up Mount Kobau on Saturday to celebrate Canada’s Parks Day.
The event was organized by Doreen Olson, coordinator of the South Okanagan Similkameen National Park Network (SOSNPN), who has long advocated for the inclusion of Mount Kobau in a local South Okanagan national park reserve.
Olson said it wasn’t an official SOSNPN event, though it was obvious that many attending support a national park reserve in the Okanagan.
Many people want to see Mount Kobau during the Meadowlark Nature Festival in May, she said, but with an elevation of more than 1,800 metres, there’s usually snow on the mountain at that time.
Canada’s Parks Day takes place annually on the third Saturday in July. Many events across Canada celebrate the role that parks play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, protecting critical habitat and promoting human health and well-being.
At Saturday’s event, there were several short hikes allowing participants to experience the mountain.
Naturalist Eva Durance led a group looking at wildflowers, which are in bloom on the mountaintop.
Astronomer Chris Purton took visitors to sites that told the story of federal government plans for an observatory on Mount Kobau in the 1960s. Those plans were abandoned, and all that remains are a few remnants of foundations and the road to the top of the mountain.
And MP Richard Cannings, a biologist who has written numerous books about birds, took other visitors on a birding walk.
“We’re very lucky in Canada to have a multitude of different kinds of parks,” said Olson, pointing to their different sizes and ecological diversity. “They are a snapshot of our landscape, nature and people.”
She said the choice of Kobau for the picnic was influenced by a desire to see it included in the proposed national park reserve.
The former B.C. Liberal government of Christy Clark had proposed to designate Mount Kobau as a provincial conservancy, giving it a low level of protection.
But the new NDP provincial government plans to include the mountain in the national park reserve.
Olson noted that Parks Canada, the B.C. government and the Okanagan Nation Alliance are looking at three areas for the national park reserve – Kilpoola, Mount Kobau and possibly White Lake.
“Of all of those, I think the least visited is (Mount Kobau) from the recreational standpoint,” she said. “There’s not a lot of time to visit it each year. A few summer months and then we get winter quickly up here.”
But Mount Kobau is special, she said, as a connecting area between two very different landscapes.
“It’s more than a mile high and it has unique plants and trees,” she said.
MP Cannings also supports including Mount Kobau in the national park reserve, and he too highlights its significance and also his general love of parks.
It’s got the greatest view in the Okanagan Valley,” he said, noting that the lookout point gives a view of both the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.
“From a biological viewpoint, it’s unique in that dry grasslands of the valley bottom meet the alpine meadows, so you get a really interesting mix of plants, animals and birds up here.”
His birding expedition didn’t discover a lot of birds because they’ve finished nesting, but they did spot the three most common kinds of hummingbirds, kinglets, sparrows and warblers.
“I have a real affinity for parks,” said Cannings. “I think it’s important that we have these places where people can get out into the wild and recreate in beautiful areas that are protected from development. So I’m always ready to support parks.”
As participants sat on lawn chairs in the parking area eating picnic lunches, Olson laid out a special cake with a tent, canoe and a fire pit by a lake, and bushes of icing.
Cannings made the ceremonial first slice.
“Why not celebrate this wonderful country?” said Olson.