COLUMN: Save the parks, save your sanity

It's important to set aside sanctuaries for our sanity.

As suburban sprawl grows and our towns spill off into the wild, it’s important to set aside sanctuaries for our sanity.

Natural, undeveloped areas have long been a source of inspiration, perspective, and enjoyment for humans. The relationship between positive mental health and outdoor activity has been documented in many scientific studies and all outcomes are the same. The more time people spend in nature the more beneficial it is to their mental health. By setting aside these spaces we are positively impacting the community by providing better mental health at no cost.

From urban green spaces to national parks and ecological reserves, protected areas have existed since people have recognized the significance of the natural world. Protected areas exist for a variety of reasons: education, recreational opportunities, and to preserve our habitats and cultural heritage.

Currently, Parks Canada is attempting to create another national park in B.C., the Okanagan-Similkameen National Park. If created, this park will protect a dry grassland ecosystem that is unique and endangered. If you enjoy natural areas, then you are in the right place.

In Canada, B.C. has the greatest percentage of protected land at 16 per cent. Alberta is next in line at 12 per cent. It doesn’t sound like a lot but 16 per cent is a huge chunk of land.

What we have in this province is thanks to the dedication and hard work of local individuals and groups in partnership with the provincial and federal governments as well as local municipalities.

For example, one local group, the Castlegar Parks and Trails society, currently maintains 16 trails in our area to help anyone in the community get access to the outdoors. The wide variety of trails include a handicapped accessible system, the Millennium walkway, and Zuckerberg Island, located right in Castlegar.

The list of local trails also includes the heart pumping, leg burning trails like Brilliant Overlook and Dove Hill. There is also a network of mountain bike trails designed to be biked by a variety of skill levels.

Another great example of a local group is The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers (TAWKROC) who recently purchased the Kinnaird Bluffs in Castlegar. The Kinnaird Bluffs have been an important place for climbers and outdoor enthusiasts since the ’50s and has become a staple of climbing in the West Kootenays. Access to the bluffs has always been an issue with the land at the base of the bluffs being privately owned but undeveloped. When it became apparent that the land was unsuitable for development an opportunity presented itself to secure it for climbers.

The acquisition of the Kinnaird Bluffs by TAWKROC was a monumental step in protecting an area that is close to the hearts of so many climbers. The future plans for the land are to donate it the city of Castlegar to create a park to protect access to climb for all climbers.

Through the efforts of organizations such as the Parks and Trails Society, TAWKROC, and the provincial and federal governments, there is a bright future ahead for the enjoyment and preservation of natural spaces for years to come. Next time you find yourself on the cliffs of Kinnaird, or the trails of Castlegar, take a moment to recognize all the great work that went into making what you are doing possible.

Evan Dux and Jamiee Remond are second-year students in the at Recreation, Fish and Wildlife program at Selkirk College, Castlegar

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