Best of the Okanagan

This Regional District of Central Okanagan map displays the lower official trails at Black Mountain/Sntsk’il’nten Regional Park: Coyote Trail on the left; Ephemeral Pond Trail loop on the right; and Hoodoo Trail at the top and right, connecting Ephemeral to Coyote. Tower Ranch Park is at the top, left.

Exploring one of our hidden gems

The series on the best Okanagan trails continues today with the two official trails, countless unofficial trails, forest service roads and the promise of more official trails in the hidden gem of Black Mountain/Sntsk’il’nten Regional Park on the eastern boundary of Kelowna.

Cautionary note: Black Mountain Irrigation District will be installing a new 850-metre-long watermain on Swainson Road starting in two to three weeks so go now or wait until the road re-opens in July. For the latest information about access, go to: rdco.com/blackmountain

During the past week, the Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen checked out each of the two official trails built with secondary student help and by a private contractor. With almost no trees, both have beautiful panoramic views of the city below.

Our first visit of two was in conjunction with a special event by Friends of Black Mountain / Sntsk’il’nten Society (friendsofblackmountain.com). Members gathered under Lone Pine Tree to honour society founder and retiring president Ian Pooley as well as retiring board member Pat Lavender.

Pooley, a descendant of an Okanagan pioneer family, was described as “the fearless leader and visionary who dreamed of these beautiful trails and who made them possible through your efforts at fundraising, and convincing people that shovelling gravel and moving a wheelbarrow would be good exercise for all these youngsters.”

Born in 1948, Pooley says “this most special place in Kelowna” was his playground as a child and when he got older, a place where he came to relax and enjoy nature. “This park preserves the last large chunk of rangeland in the Central Okanagan that would otherwise have disappeared. And I hope that it is the nucleus of an even bigger park as time goes on.”

First, a little history. In 2007, Black Mountain (a.k.a. Black Knight Mountain) was identified as a high priority park acquisition by the Regional District of Central Okanagan since it was an underrepresented natural environment – grassland. In 2008, the regional

district and Westbank First Nation initiated discussions on co-managing the park lands. The name Sntsk’il’nten comes from the Sylix language and translates as “the place where arrowheads/flint is found.”

In 2014, the park was established and designated a regional natural area. With 127 hectares added in 2017, the park is now 640 hectares making it the largest regional park in the Central Okanagan and larger than Stanley Park in Vancouver.

In September 2018, volunteers from Friends and students from the Academy of Indigenous Studies at Mt. Boucherie Secondary School started building the first gravel trail uphill of Swainson Road. During the next six weeks, they were joined by student volunteers from Rutland Senior Secondary and Dr. Knox Middle schools,

100 in total. A private contractor finished for a total of four kilometres.

“The first trail, built in September-October 2018, starts 600 metres up from the Swainson Road gate, goes up to a flat meadow before circling an area that includes ephemeral (lasting a short time) ponds and a protected First Nation site,” said secretary Jean-Claude Gavrel.

“That Ephemeral Pond Trail is in two parts: the connector which is 500 metres and the loop which is 1.5 kilometres. Total trek from Swainson Road is 3.7 kilometres.”

The second called Coyote Trail, built in 2019, starts at the same location 600 metres up from the Swainson Road gate and heads north to Tower Ranch where it connects one-third of the way up the main Tower Ranch Park Trail. That trail is two kilometres making the total trek from Swainson Road to Tower Ranch and back 5.2 kilometres. Hoodoo Trail connecting Ephemeral to Coyote is currently unimproved.

“Both trails meander in the beautiful grasslands of the park as one of their primary functions is to allow people to discover the beauty of the grassland while keeping them off the fragile ecosystem,” said Gavrel. An official opening has not yet been scheduled so not all the park is open but FOBM hopes for the fall.

The park received formal recognition from Heritage BC, thanks to a post by Pooley on the BC Francophone history website. A 7,000-acre ranch was established in 1860 by Eli Lequime and his family, emigrants from Bordeaux, France. By the late 1870s, it was the largest cattle ranch in the Okanagan. The Lequime family also owned the Lequime store, post office and a hotel in the former Francophone community of L’Anse-au-Sable.

In an interview, Pooly added: “In 1904, Bob Pooley (my grandfather) and his partner, E.M. Carruthers, bought the entire Lequime Ranch, which extended almost without interruption from Black Mountain to Okanagan Lake. They established the Kelowna Land and Orchard Co. (thus the name KLO Road) on the benchland of East Kelowna, but sold off the Black Mountain part of the old ranch to the Belgo Canadian Fruitlands, another orchard development company.”

From the 1920s until the 1950s, there was a ski hill in a western bowl. Pooley was born too late but other board members, Glen Wood and Don Wilson, skied there as youngsters.

J.P. Squire, aka the Ski Sheriff, is a retired reporter. Email jp.squire@telus.net