Peter Jennings would be extremely pleased with the progress made towards his vision of North Fork Wild. The Shuswap is a richer place thanks to Peter’s generosity and foresight, as he donated his 21 hectares to the CSRD in 2012 for a park. The network of trails constructed by Peter and his close friend Gerald King have been vastly improved and are already being well used by the public and school groups.
We first visited the area in 2011, when we met with Peter and joined him for a brief tour. We returned last week to hike most of the newly renovated trails and explore farther up the valley on the old packhorse trail that was built in 1929 for fire protection. It is mostly a second growth hemlock forest, with patches of Douglas fir, western red-cedar and some deciduous trees. There is quite a diverse understory of shrubs, lichens and moss, plus a fascinating array of fungi, including the alien-like, bright orange lobster mushrooms.
The Shuswap Trail Alliance in conjunction with the CSRD has done a fabulous job re-building the trail network, but it has been a long, complicated process that began nearly ten years ago with inventory efforts. The first steps included a full environmental baseline screening, wildlife and vegetation monitoring and archaeological assessments, all of which fed into a master management plan. The entire project has involved a number of groups, including the Splatsin, the Shuswap Outdoor Learning Foundation, the provincial government and the Okanagan Shuswap School District # 83.
The first phase of construction began in 2014, with the fourth and final phase nearly completed now. A total of 11 bridges, 5 boardwalks, 2 sets of stairs and 8 rail fences have been built, using rough-cut cedar lumber. The stairs and walkways utilize a creative design with 3×6 inch planking and 6×6 inch risers. The craftsmanship is excellent and STA Project Manager Veda Roberge, Technical Design Specialists Sutra Brett and the crew deserve a heap of praise. Approximately half of the trails had to be re-located to utilize more accessible terrain.
North Fork Wild is a magical place, a crown jewel in the CSRD parks system. And yet there is much more that could be done to provide more opportunities for hiking, for learning and for enjoying and appreciating this remarkable part of the Shuswap. To the north of the park is an old growth management area, where logging will likely never occur. Massive downed trees now block access along the packer trail, but these will be cleared during subsequent volunteer work parties.
Below the packer trail, the Perry River flows through an amazing, narrow rocky canyon and series of cascades that is even more spectacular than the Adams River Gorge. This area was once proposed for a provincial park and a trail was built in 1974 on the east side, but unfortunately it went through private land and thus was abandoned. Someday, a bridge could be built to allow access into this amazing feature that would likely help attract provincial, if not national attention.
Peter built a rather large house with the goal that one day it could be used for educational purposes. Ideally, this structure could one day be renovated and utilized as a combination classroom, museum, research centre and bunkhouse for the school district. Outdoor learning is already taking place at North Fork Wild, with many classes using the trails and the site to experience and learn about nature. Many other B.C. school districts have outdoor learning centres, such as McQueen Lake above Kamloops, and the Shuswap deserves one as well.
Peter Jennings passed away in June, but his legacy of respect for nature and love for all things wild live on at North Fork Wild. On October 15th, everyone is invited to a celebration of his life and the grand opening of the park he helped to create.