Interpreting nature at Pass Creek Regional Park

Pass Creek Regional Park is a community gem.

Pass Creek Regional Park is a community gem.

It’s a diverse multi-use park that attempts to balance its recreational uses and the health of the natural environment; such as the riparian ecosystem of the creek that runs through it. A recent management plan by the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) identified a long-term goal to be the building of an environmental education centre at Pass Creek.

A centre like this would go a long way to extending what is already happening at Pass Creek in the way of environmental education initiatives. Currently, there are primary, elementary, secondary and post-secondary classes that come to the park so that students can learn about the fish that spawn in the river, the plants on the shores, and the wildlife that occur in the riparian areas.

Did you know that the Black Cottonwood riparian ecosystem surrounding the creek is considered one of the rarest plant communities within the province? Did you know that seven species at risk may find suitable habitat within the park’s various ecosystems? Included in this list are Lewis’s Woodpecker, the Western Screech-Owl, Great Blue Heron, and Bull Trout. As the park and surrounding area can be very important for wildlife and fish, we believe it to be of great benefit to educate the public.

The rare riparian area acts as a transitional zone between aquatic and upland coniferous ecosystems and provides critical habitat for a wide range of plant and animal species; adding to the overall biodiversity of the park. Norn’s Creek is also thought to be one of the most important rainbow trout spawning tributaries to the lower Columbia River. For these reasons, it is crucial we maintain the integrity of the remaining habitat for upland wildlife and fish alike. What better opportunity to educate the public and get excited about the bountiful beauty of nature we have surrounding Castlegar?

Of the residents of the RDCK who expressed opinions during public consultation about the park’s management plan priorities, approximately 80 per cent rated educational programs of “very/somewhat important.” We couldn’t agree more.

Outside of interpretive signage, it seems as though education within the park is somewhat limited. Pass Creek is ideal for learning opportunities because of its proximity to Castlegar’s city centre which makes it easier for community members, such as younger children, to visit. The existing infrastructure like the campground and exhibition grounds makes the site even more convenient to visiting groups.

What better way to showcase Pass Creeks’ terrestrial and aquatic natural environments but with an environmental education centre? It is unknown whether or not a centre will be built. Currently, there is no money allocated to this project under the RDCK’s management plan. A project of this scope would require a significant amount of funding, but could, however, be an excellent opportunity to connect the region’s youth and truly, our entire community, with the natural environment in a hands-on way… and that’s priceless.

It would be an expensive endeavour, but there have been other local successes in this regard such as the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area interpretative centre and Kokanee Creek Nature Centre. These facilities provide an attraction for tourists, an increased economic benefit to the surrounding communities, protection of the natural environment, as well as educational programs to visitors.

Considering these factors, it seems it would be of great value to have an environmental education centre so close to home.

Mike Haig and Leeza Perehudoff are second-year Recreation, Fish & Wildlife students at the Castlegar campus of Selkirk College.

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