How a caretaker and a couple of gates transformed this Kelowna park | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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How a caretaker and a couple of gates transformed this Kelowna park

Heather Rice loves the naturalness of Knox Mountain Park, even though the lower area has a lawn and planted trees that have to be protected from deer who can rub the bark off them.
September 30, 2019 - 6:30 PM

KELOWNA - In 30 years of living at the foot of Knox Mountain Park in Kelowna, Heather Rice has seen it go from “seedy” to a place where deer may be the greatest danger.

Rice and her husband Jim bought their house in the North End because the park is there.

“I can look out my window and not see more houses,” she told iNFOnews.ca. “I’m a retired professional forester, so I need my space. We bought here because we can look out our window and still see trees and some of the natural environment.”

There have been significant changes over those years. It used to be they could walk in the park on a summer weekend afternoon and not see anyone else.

As the park became more used, it wasn’t always by the best characters. Rice joined the Friends of Okanagan Mountain Park (she’s now secretary) and helped lobby for changes.

The caretaker's house. Having a presence in the park has made it much safer.
The caretaker's house. Having a presence in the park has made it much safer.

“There was starting to be a seedy part of the park when it was open 24/7,” Rice said. “Sex trade workers would go up there. Drug dealers would go up there. So we needed to lobby a little bit to get a caretaker in the park and the gates to go up and close the park at night.”

For the most part, the caretaker simply keeps his eyes on the park and befriends the deer, but has had occasion to report troublemakers. The current caretaker has lived there for 13 years but declined to be interviewed for this story.

“Having a caretaker is huge in my mind,” Rice said. “It just makes the park safer.”

Dozens of cyclist make the hard climb up the mountain every day.
Dozens of cyclist make the hard climb up the mountain every day.

The only incident she’s heard of recently was from a woman she talked to last week who was walking her dog on a leash and carrying a baby when she came across a small herd of deer.

“They were attacked by a deer,” Rice said. “They (deer) always stop and look at you so you just assume they’re going to look and you try to give yourself some space and walk around them up the hill. For whatever reason, this deer came straight at her. She had to let the dog go because she had a child strapped to the front of her. The deer did attack the dog and stomped on it a couple of times.”

While not always that visible, there are herds of deer in the park and some quite large bucks. She’s seen a lot of them in the early evenings when she’s out walking.

Rice suggested the city get a count on the deer population to see if it’s growing or shrinking and to be aware that attacks like last week's may become more common as the deer are already quite habituated to humans.

Looking down from Pioneer Pavilion across Okanagan Lake.
Looking down from Pioneer Pavilion across Okanagan Lake.

And, as far as humans go, there seems to be a different type of people using a hilly park like Knox Mountain than sometimes frequent flatter terrain. For one thing, there is very little garbage left behind.

“It’s partly the attitude of the type of people that come here,” Rice said. “It is a natural park and, because you have to climb up a hill to walk up it or cycle up it, you tend to be someone who is attuned to nature a bit.”

And that’s one of the unique aspects about the park.

“What makes Knox special is that it’s considered a natural park in that it’s not fully maintained,” Rice said. “At the bottom, it’s lawn and planted trees. But the rest of it, they’re trying to do their best to keep it as natural as possible.”

Trees frame the lower pavilion with the city and Okanagan Lake in the background.
Trees frame the lower pavilion with the city and Okanagan Lake in the background.

That being said, there is a road up to the Pioneer Lookout next to the caretaker’s house. That road is also the car race course for the annual Knox Mountain Hillclimb on the May long weekend.

Speaking for herself and not on behalf of the Friends of the park, Rice would be happy to see it end.

“I know, historically, it’s been there for a long time,” she said. “But, maybe the city has outgrown something like that. It’s not environmentally friendly.”

Thirty years ago, it may have been fine to close the park for the long weekend because hardly anyone visited it. That has changed.

The park is heavily used by cyclists and walkers who are encouraged to stay on the trails that have been built to keep them from trampling environmentally sensitive areas. There are plenty of weddings, a tennis court that doubles for pickle ball and a frisbee golf course where there was once a campground.

The road is closed to traffic Sunday mornings but Rice would like to see that expanded to every morning, at least.

The mountain was originally part of Arthur Booth Knox’s ranch and was donated to the city by Dr. Benjamin deFurlong Boyce in 1939.

A.B. Knox arrived in Kelowna in 1874, bought what is now Manhattan Beach and later the mountain and substantial holdings in Glenmore Valley, according to Sharron Simpson’s book The Kelowna Story.

He was convicted in 1891 of burning two stacks of rival rancher Tom Ellis’ hay. Knox spent three years in jail and was greeted warmly upon his release. He went on to become a prominent citizen, including being elected president of the Agricultural and Trades Association of the Okanagan Mission. When he retired, he sold his ranch to Ellis.

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The original park was expanded by adding 81.5 hectares to take in Kathleen Lake and a 74-hectare parcel east of Clifton road bordering on Blair’s Pond below Wilden. That’s called Knox Mountain East and makes the park more than 310 hectares.

There are 1,400 metres of Okanagan Lake frontage reaching to Paul’s Tomb. It rises up to the summit about 300 metres above the lake. But, the summit is not at the top of the park road. It’s actually some distance to the east and can be accessed off a trail starting from Boynton Road, off Clifton Road.

“It’s quite an interesting ecosystem,” Rice said, speaking from her forester background. “They have the lakefront all the way up to the Ponderosa Pine and the grasslands. It’s a very sensitive and unique ecosystem that they’re trying to keep as natural as possible and still let people use it."

Image Credit: Submitted/City of Kelowna

 


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