Wells Gray Day
Last weekend I drove north to Wells Gray Provincial Park to visit my friend Trevor Goward and help out with his campaign to protect a significant wildlife corridor in the Upper Clearwater Valley. Trevor had organized a “Wells Gray Day” packed with speakers and events that sounded well worth the long drive, if seeing that fabulous valley wasn’t enough. Trevor lives on an exquisite 10-acre property—“Edgewood Blue”—about 20 kilometres north of the town of Clearwater. I hadn’t been there for about 18 years, but remembered the driveway winding through a stand of mature aspen on a low ridge, leading to a house overlooking a pond filled with cattails and dragonflies.
I arrived about 7 p.m. on Friday and was immediately put to work putting the finishing touches on the property for Saturday’s big event. Botanist Lynn Baldwin and I helped Trevor move gravel and rake it into position along new trails, finish the fire circle and bring in firewood. By the time darkness fell in earnest everything looked more than presentable—Trevor had obviously done a tremendous amount of work over the past few months turning his property into a learning centre, with a small amphitheatre overlooking the pond, a covered open-air classroom by the fire-pit, and several trails through the diverse woodlands and marshes.
The Wells Gray Day event was organized to celebrate Trevor’s donation of his property to the Land Conservancy of BC, along with a similar donation by his neighbours, Edwina and John Kurta. Thompson Rivers University is involved as well, since they have a field station across the road and will be using the properties for their outdoor classes and research. Bill Turner of TLC, Chief Nathan Matthew of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation, and Terry Lake, BC’s Minister of the Environment, all welcomed us to the morning’s talks. Cathy Hickson, a volcanologist who has studied the incredible geology of Wells Gray for decades, gave us the highlights of the fascinating story of the region’s deep past, a story of fire and ice. Just before lunch we moved across to the TRU field station, where Tom Dickinson, Dean of Science at TRU, showed off the plans for the new facility. It was idyllic in the unseasonably warm September sun, with Compton’s Tortoiseshells dancing overhead and sunning themselves on the walls of the old one-room schoolhouse that is the main edifice on the site now. Ralph Ritcey, one of the éminences grises of BC wildlife biology, told stories of early moose studies in the valley.
After lunch, CBC’s Mark Forsythe and I talked about the importance of park interpretation, including some reminiscences on my part about the golden days of BC park naturalists in the 1970s. The program was privatized in the 1980s and more or less died away from lack of funding in the last few years. We need to get this program going again—write Terry Lake and tell him so! As I prepared to tell a few stories about my park experiences I was surprised to see two of my old park superintendents in the audience—Herb Green and Pat Rogers. We broke into groups for the rest of the afternoon and walked the trails of Edgewood Blue, learning from each other about mosses, dragonflies and of course lichens. There were hardly any birds active in the hot, still afternoon sun—we saw a Song Sparrow and a Common Yellowthroat, but missed a Bald Eagle that flew over while we were admiring the small beauty of sundews!
The day was capped off with a dinner in the historic log community hall down the road, followed by a wonderful talk on the Sepwepemc sense of place given by Ron and Marianne Ignace. A few of us gathered around a bonfire under the full moon, talking til past midnight about Wells Gray, the world and more. Well done, Trevor! And remember, Trevor will name a new lichen species after you if you win the “Name that Lichen” auction that is open until October 2nd–all proceeds go towards his Wells Gray conservation project.
The following morning I got up early and drove up the valley into Wells Gray Park itself, stopping first at Helmcken Falls, truly one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the continent. I then walked into Bailey’s Chute, since Mark had told me about seeing big chinook salmon leaping there the day before. It was mesmerizing to watch the roaring waters against the sunlit forest; I was pulled from my reverie at one point by the chatter of a dipper as it flew towards me and disappeared into the rock bluffs below my feet. It had probably had its fill of aquatic insects, and maybe a few salmon eggs, and was going for a bit of a nap. Maybe it was because of the early hour, but I had to wait patiently for about 30 minutes before a big fish–probably 30 pounds or so–rocketed out of the pool at the base of the falls and battled desperately against the crashing foam before being thrown back. These fish had come up the Fraser River, turned right at the Thompson, left at the North Thompson and left again at the Clearwater River–an amazing journey. And the ones trying to climb Bailey’s Chute were the real pioneers, the ones trying to blaze a new path above the spawning grounds below. We can learn something about persistence from these magnificent fish, a lesson that may prove useful in struggles to preserve this and other magical spots on earth.