April 05, 2016 - 8:00 PM
VERNON - Mention Silver Star and the first thing most people think of is the ski resort. Even if you’ve noticed the sign on the way up the mountain which says you’ve entered Silver Star Provincial Park, you might not know it’s a completely separate chunk of land from the ski hill, or just how valuable it is.
Silver Star Provincial Park is more than 5,500 hectares of forest and sub-alpine meadows which encircle Silver Star Mountain Resort, primarily to the west of the ski hill. The resort is not actually within the bounds of the provincial park. For comparison, Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park is just slightly smaller, at 4,209 hectares in size.
According to the Sovereign Lake Nordic Club, which operates a large network of groomed cross-country trails within the protected area, the land was established in 1940 as a provincial park. Subsequent to 1963, a parcel of roughly 2,700 hectares containing the ski area and hotels was taken out of the park, leaving the reserve in two blocks.
Today, the reserve is designated as a 'Class A' provincial park, a classification B.C. Parks gives to places where the natural environment is to be preserved for the use, enjoyment and inspiration of the public.
Kevin Wilson, the B.C. Parks supervisor for the North Okanagan, says Silver Star Provincial Park has a lot to offer, particularly as a ‘winter park’ where usage actually increases in the colder months, contrary to most of B.C.’s provincial parks.
“It’s extremely valuable, especially when so close to an urban centre like it is,” Wilson says.
While the park’s classification prohibits commercial enterprises like logging and mining, recreational activities which promote the public’s use and enjoyment of the land, like cross country skiing, snowmobiling and guiding, are accepted commercial ventures. The provincial park partners with local organizations like the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre and Vernon Snowmobile Association to maintain trail systems throughout the park. While usage of these trails has a fee, Wilson says there are also some free routes maintained by the Vernon Outdoors Club which the public can explore. You can also pick your own route through the woods — just be careful not to get lost.
Aside from skiing and snowmobiling, Wilson says snowshoeing and mountain biking are growing in popularity at the park.
“Snowshoeing has really been taking off. In the last five years it’s gone through the roof,” Wilson says.
Horseback riding and dog walking are also popular in the summertime, when the cross country and snowmobile trails can be used free of charge.
“When it’s 40 degrees in the valley, it’s nice to get 10 degrees cooler,” Wilson says.
Visitors may be treated to a sighting of a lynx, snowshoe hare, moose or bear — all of which live in the park. They’ll also get to explore what’s referred to as an Okanagan highland ecosystem — made up of spruce, fir and lodgepole pine forest. Touring the park in the warmer months will lead visitors to sub-alpine meadows teeming with wildflowers.
Hunting is permitted in select areas of the park, and First Nations engage in traditional hunting practices as well as berry picking in the summertime, Wilson says. Hunting is only allowed outside the designated recreation area.
With B.C.’s parks ranging in size from 11 hectares to almost a million, Wilson says Silver Star is a medium-sized park which likely ‘seems huge when you’re standing in the middle of it.’
The early 1900s saw extensive mining activities on the mountain, and that history is reflected in the park today.
“Something people might not know is most of the cross country trails are named after old mining claims in the area that were active before the park was created,” Wilson says.
For more information about trails and fees, check out the following websites:
Silver Star Provincial Park
Sovereign Lake Nordic Club
Vernon Snowmobile Club
North Okanagan Cycling Society
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