Wednesday was National Canoe Day so it was appropriate that a close relative of the canoe was the focus of the past week’s outdoor activities.

For those who didn’t acknowledge this special day of the year, National Canoe Day has encouraged individuals and communities across Canada to connect by canoe since its inception in 2008.

FYI, National Canoe Day was coined by the Canadian Canoe Museum following a CBC campaign in 2007 that declared the canoe one of the Seven Wonders of Canada. Ever since and in many ways, from proclamations to paddling parties, Canadians have connected and shared their affinity for canoes and more significantly, the stories they carry.

By coincidence, the Kelowna Canoe and Kayak Club held its annual Fintry Provincial Park Camp out last weekend. And what a wild weekend it was.

After a slow kayak paddle on quiet waters on Friday evening, quiet enough to scare a snoozing deer buck on the shoreline, Saturday morning had gusting winds and whitecaps, so only the bravest paddlers headed into the waves south of the park.

On Saturday afternoon, a much larger group stayed in the sheltered bay to the north. As the breeze turned into a steady wind, we headed back but most continued south into wind-driven waves up to a metre high at times. Great practice.

For those fearful of such waves, the big lake rollers usually come in sets of three, four or five, so keep your watercraft headed directly into them. Then, when there’s a break with smaller waves, head quickly at the forward angle you want to go and watch for the next set.

If the waves are coming toward the rear of your craft, a following sea, you can paddle quickly and surf the larger waves. However, if they are coming toward your stern at an angle, a large wave will push against the stern first and try to turn your craft sideways. Not a good thing since the next wave can knock you over.

***

In the meantime, outdoor recreation news flooded in this week.

The best news was the B.C. Agricultural Land Commission reconsidering the City of Kelowna’s application to turn the former CN Rail right-of-way through the Eldorado Ranch north of Kelowna International into a public trail.

The city provided more information, including a memorandum of understanding with the Bennett family, which owns the ranch. Okanagan panel chair Gerry Zimmerman and member Jim Johnson found that “the City of Kelowna has taken appropriate steps and is committed to working cooperatively with landowners in the ALR adjacent to Property 14-17 during the use of the corridor to identify and resolve issues of concern or conflict. The Panel is satisfied with the majority of measures proposed in the Memorandum of Understanding.”

Don’t rush out to use the unimproved trail, however, since the Okanagan Indian Band is still waiting for the federal government to accept the transfer of ownership from CN and then has to add it to the Lake Country reserve.

The band council then has to vote in favour of trail improvements (the money is in the bank) and allow public access.

***

In related news, busloads of Okanagan Rail Trail users are causing concern in the Regional District of North Okanagan where more than 117,000 people have already accessed the RDNO section this year.

The numbers are only expected to grow heading into the summer months. With this volume of cyclists and pedestrians, the RDNO and District of Coldstream are asking commercial vehicles and tour buses to plan their drop-offs and pick-ups away from the Kickwillie Loop area.

“We are thrilled to see that the trail is so popular that new business opportunities have been created. However, the Kickwillie Loop area is not suited to accommodate the unloading of buses or other commercial vehicles,” said Trevor Seibel, chief administrative officer for the District of Coldstream.

“Instead, we ask commercial vehicles to drop people off at the Coldstream parking lot which is located between Dutch’s Campground and the Alpine Centre on Kalamalka Road. Once dropped off, it’s an easy, two-minute bike ride or a five-minute walk to get to the trail,” said Seibel.

Another option for commercial vehicles is at Kekuli Bay Provincial Park just off Highway 97.

“Kekuli Bay Provincial Park has the infrastructure and parking lot design made for dropping off large groups of people,” said Mike Fox, RDNO’s general manager of community services. “And the rail trail meets the parking lot at a nice, easy grade making it accessible for all abilities.”

Other points of access include the new Kal Crystal Waters Trail. While not directly on the ORT, the Kal Crystal Waters trail offers options to connect to the ORT with a more challenging ride or walk.

The Kal Crystal Waters trail is best accessed by commercial vehicles at the Bailey Road parking lot (east side of Highway 97) or at the Kalamalka Lake Lookout.

***

The inaugural meeting of the Friends of Robert Lake on Monday was successful with a number of participants volunteering to serve on a steering committee to formally establish a new community organization.

“It sounds as if the Friends are off to a good start,” said Rick Gee, one of the organizers. However, “it appears there is some uncertainty about where the water is coming from to overfill Robert Lake.”

The City of Kelowna has reportedly admitted to pumping water into the lake in Glenmore Valley from the landfill.

Some Kelowna people have expressed concern about Robert Lake’s changes over the past couple of years.

There is concern about the increased water level making it difficult for shorebirds to use the lake for feeding and nesting. Water pumped from the lake is draining into Mill Creek with unknown effect.

***

The AGM of the Trail of the Okanagan's Society last Saturday was not as well attended as AGMs in the past due to competition from the Beach Cruise and memorial for David Kampe. However, those who came were enthusiastic, says society member Ellen Woodd.

"Ron Mattiussi spoke well and presented a compelling Powerpoint (on how, as the former Kelowna city manager, he brought together stakeholders and made the Okanagan Rail Trail a reality)."

The subsequent panel discussion included a couple members of the Penticton and Area Cycling Association, Matt Hopkins and Terry McWhirter, as well as Mattiussi and was moderated by Don Gemmell.

"It focused on what was happening in the Penticton area and the push for a new bike route through town. The bike valet service at the Saturday Farmer's Market was also mentioned. It has turned out to be very popular; they have almost bypassed the number of usages they had last year and the summer is just beginning," she said.

"Brenda Bolton has started a bike rental company by the visitor's centre in OK Falls. She is quite keen to see the Vaseau Lake route to Oliver opened up. See www.southokanaganbikerentals.ca."

***

At their June 24 meeting, directors with the Regional District of Central Okanagan have renewed a memorandum of understanding and a lease agreement with UBCO for a portion of Woodhaven Nature Conservancy Regional Park in Kelowna.

The MOU runs through June 2022 and recognizes the partnership between the regional district's parks services department and the UBCO faculty of creative and critical studies in continuing the successful Artist-in-Residence program. The partnership benefits the faculty's academic programming while enhancing the delivery of regional parks services' public education and nature awareness programs through UBCO-hosted public events.

***

The Gibson House 30s Swing Dance scheduled for Sunday evening (June 30) at Kopje Regional Park in Lake Country has been cancelled due to low ticket sales. "We apologize for any inconvenience. Those who purchased tickets will be contacted regarding refunds," said Bruce Smith, the regional district's communications and intergovernmental affairs officer.

***

Thanks to a partnership between Big White Ski Resort and Elevation Outdoors, up to five Kelowna-area youth from disadvantaged backgrounds will learn how to mountain bike this summer.

Elevation Outdoors, a Kelowna-based charity, kicked off its four-day adult mountain bike camp on June 18 and has a youth program scheduled to begin July 9. Proceeds from these camps will go towards the charity's Live to Ride program ñ an intensive, summer-long mountain bike program for youth aged 12 to 18 who would not have the opportunity to learn the sport otherwise.

"Not everybody is represented and not everybody has equal opportunity to gain experience in the outdoors," said Mike Greer, executive director of Elevation Outdoors. "The participants don't have to pay anything to come out. They have seven weeks of biking, and we provide the bikes and helmets. They just need to show up with clothes they're comfortable in and closed-toed shoes they can ride in."

Elevation Outdoors also has rock climbing, sailing, snowboarding and hiking youth programs that are funded through this scholarship model. This summer, 10 of the 12 seats in the mountain bike program are fully funded, either by grants, donations or the money from the Big White camps.

To qualify for a scholarship, youth must meet one of five different criteria: if the parents or guardians of the youth is at or below the low income cut-offs as published by the CRA; if the youth, parents or guardians are on social assistance; if they're involved in the foster care system; if they're on parole, probation or in a restorative justice program; and if they get a referral from a mental health practitioner.

"We really do try to open our doors to young people from backgrounds that historically don't have access or have limited access to these sports and try to be the gateway to getting more of them out,"said Greer.

Willam, now 19, is volunteering with this summer's Live to Ride participants. He spent the past two summers learning how to mountain bike through the same program, and has also participated in the snowboarding and hiking programs available through Elevation Outdoors.

"I was denied going to my summer camp," he said. Someone from foster parent support suggested the Live to Ride program as an alternative for something to do over the summer and I had quite a bit of fun.

Willam fell in love with the sport that summer and, he says, if he could afford a bike, he'd be out all the time.

"Without [the program], there wouldn't be a way for many kids to go and keep themselves busy in the summer and do things," Willam said. "Bored kids generally lead to trouble."

If both the adult camp and youth camp at Big White fill up, Greer said they'll be able to provide scholarships to five riders. But, "even if it covers one or two seats, it's still a win for us. It means we've gotten more people out and on bikes outside of our typical demographic."

The Big White camps begin with three days of in-town riding and then a final day at Big White to experience true, mountain riding. A bike and helmet are provided for all four days. While there are still a serious number of barriers preventing someone from getting involved with the sport of mountain biking such as cost and fear, Greer said, the camps are designed to help beginners and novices feel confident going out on their own.

"Not only is it getting more people on bikes, but Big White is really helping us become a more sustainable organization," he said. "And over time, hopefully, to demonstrate to the kids in our Live to Ride program that if this is a sport they really like, they can pursue work, they can get your instructors designation and work at Big White."

***

You can delve into a bit of local history, then let your artistic juices flow through tours and Art in the Park at Gibson Heritage House in Kopje Regional Park on Carrs Landing Road in Lake Country.

Starting Sunday (June 30) and continuing through August, Gibson House is open for tours from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Sunday. Regional parks' staff and volunteers will guide you through the 1912 heritage house which has been restored and refurnished through community donations. And each Sunday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through August, parks staff are also celebrating Art in the Park where you can create your own watercolour masterpiece as staff provide all the materials you'll need in this family-friendly program.

For more information, go to: regionaldistrict.com/parks, check out Your Guide to Regional Parks or contact the Environmental Education Centre for the Okanagan at 250-469-6140.

***

If you join one of the Wild Walks, you can learn some secrets and natural features of various regional parks in the Central Okanagan.

A park interpreter will turn an ordinary walk in the park into something extraordinary.

Each of the Wild Walks lasts approximately two hours, is suitable for all ages including families with young children and ranges from easy to moderate. Saturday walks start at 10 a.m. and Wednesday walks at 1 p.m., rain or shine, so participants should dress for the conditions. Remember to bring sun protection. There's no cost to take part but you should pre-register for the following dates and locations:

* July 6 and 10: Mission Creek Greenway, a ëwild rides' program this month exploring the popular recreational trail by bicycle. Bring your own bicycle and helmet, leaving and returning from the Lakeshore Road trail entrance.

* Aug. 17 and 21: Mill Creek Regional Park, meet at the Spencer Road park entrance to check out the creekside trail leading to a waterfall and ponds.

To save a spot for your family, drop in to the Environmental Education Centre for the Okanagan, email eeco@cord.bc.ca or phone 250-469-6140.

These free events are held in conjunction with the Community Recreational Initiatives Society (CRIS) to provide barrier-free access to regional parks. To request the services of CRIS volunteers, go to: adaptiveadventures.ca.

***

You can experience the healing and restorative benefits of the forest by joining a certified forest therapist who will guide you to mindfully connect with nature using concepts of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku).

Forest bathing, also called forest therapy, has been recognized in Japan for decades as an effective preventative healthcare treatment.

Each three-hour session costs $15 and runs on these dates and locations: July 7, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Scenic Canyon Regional Park's Field Road entrance; Aug. 17, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Mission Creek Regional Park.

The guide will lead participants through each park at a slower pace than you might be used to with a conventional park visit with the intent to relax and immerse yourself in a forest atmosphere.

There is a limit of 10 people per session so those interested should register early. For more information or to register, contact the EECO at 250-469-6140, email eeco@cord.bc.ca or drop into the centre at 2363A Springfield Rd. in Mission Creek Regional Park.

***

There is more good news for trails in the Shuswap.

The Shuswap Trail Alliance has received a BC Rural Dividend Program grant of $100,000 on behalf of regional partners supporting development of new recreational greenway trails this year.

"We are so grateful to everyone who helped raise funds during our annual February fundraiser," said Rob Marshall, STA chair. The alliance used $28,000 of the locally-raised funds to leverage the provincial grant funding along with additional in-kind support. "By working together, we are able to do things as rural communities that we wouldn't otherwise have the capacity to do."

The BC Rural Dividend Program funds will support new trail projects recently approved for hiking, bicycling, equestrian and snowshoeing in Chase, South Shuswap, Salmon Arm, Larch Hills and the East Shuswap. A trail crew has been hired to implement these projects supported by contracted trail specialists.

Trails approved for completion this season include: the Scatchard Mountain Rocky Road Trail above Chase; the Cedar Creek Trail with BC Parks at White Lake; three new trails at the South Canoe Trail System for mountain biking, hiking, equestrian riding and snowshoeing; another section added to the Larch Hills Traverse; and further improvements to trails at North Fork Wild in the East Shuswap.

"We are trying to create more resilient, healthy communities by creating sustainable greenway trails, strengthening relationships throughout the Shuswap - particularly between Secwepemc and non-indigenous communities - and being more thoughtful about the impact we have on the land," said Phil McIntyre-Paul, the alliance's executive director.

"It's humbling," he added, pointing to the circle of regional partners, community leaders and volunteers who are making Shuswap trails flourish.

For more information on Shuswap trails, go to: shuswaptrails.com.

***

Sun Peaks Resort is continuing the development of its world class, lift-access bike park this summer. Following significant trail work completed in 2018, the resort is investing another $350,000 in 2019 for construction of several new mountain bike trails as well as upgrades to existing elements of the network.

Two additional machine-built freeride trails, aimed at intermediate-level riders, highlight this year's construction along with improvements to beginner level trails and the addition of a brand-new section of Steam Shovel, the resort's signature advanced jump line. Completion of the new Progression Park zone, an area aimed at both younger and entry level riders, will also be a key feature this summer.

This investment will allow the Sun Peaks Bike Park to better cater to all levels of mountain bike riders and provide them with numerous opportunities for progression.

***

Along with the new trails, the resort will continue running the Sunburst chairlift daily until 7 p.m. in the core summer months and extend the bike park season by running bonus weekends through the end of September.

"This investment is big for us. Building almost 12 kilometres of new trail that will appeal to riders of all types is the perfect way to celebrate our 20th anniversary of bike park operations. Sun Peaks has always been a destination for core downhill riders, and will continue to be. But now, we'll have a much more well-rounded mountain bike product to help create the same success we have seen with our winter ski experience," said Aidan Kelly, the resort's chief marketing officer.

The completion of the new Progression Park area next to the village is something the resort is particularly excited about due to the unique nature of the product. The Progression Park utilizes carpet lifts to transport bikers, providing a new and original summer experience. This addition makes Sun Peaks one of the exclusive lift-access bike parks in North America to provide a non-chairlift option to access downhill riding opportunities.

In addition to the upgrades in the Bike Park, the resort is working closely with the community-based Sun Peaks Recreational Trail Association to support their efforts in developing and growing the cross-country biking trails in the area.

The Sun Peaks Bike Park opened for the 2019 season on Friday (June 21). For more information about mountain biking in Sun Peaks, go to: SunPeaksResort.com/Bike.

J.P. Squire, aka the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff, is a retired reporter. Email: jp.squire@telus.net

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