Canada’s valley of fire and ice at Wells Gray

Announcing Wells Gray World Heritage Year starting this September

Next year the Wells Gray TRU Wilderness Centre will open its doors for outdoor learning and research in the wilds of the Clearwater Valley, two hours north of Kamloops, B.C. The facilities are now under construction.

To celebrate this milestone event, Tom Dickinson at Thompson Rivers University and Trevor Goward at Edgewood Blue are teaming up to host a yearlong series of guided tours, hikes, field courses, lectures, and children’s events – all on the theme of wilderness research and learning in the Clearwater Valley and Wells Gray Provincial Park. Wells Gray World Heritage Year will run from September of this year through October of 2013 inclusive.

Wells Gray World Heritage Year will help to boost efforts by Thompson Rivers University to create a viable learning and research centre in the Clearwater Valley. “As we step forward into a new era of research and learning in Wells Gray, this is a perfect time to take stock of what we know about the Clearwater Valley,” says TRU Dean of Science Tom Dickinson. In the coming months we’ll be telling stories about discoveries made here by wildlife biologists, botanists, geologists, some dating back to the early 1950s. Starting next spring, we’ll also have a discussion about the importance of wilderness in contemporary society. Wells Gray World Heritage year is really a celebration of all wild places wherever they’re found”.

Wells Gray World Heritage Year takes its name from a government-supported initiative to put British Columbia’s fourth largest park forward as a candidate for a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the coming year Dickinson and Goward hope to bring British Columbians up to speed on the tremendous geological, ecological and wilderness values preserved in Wells Gray.

“I’m really stoked about this,” says Trevor Goward, a well-known naturalist and spokesperson for the Wells Gray World Heritage Committee. “The hardest thing about trying to win international recognition for Wells Gray is that inevitably you have to work uphill. How many Canadians know that Wells Gray Park is Canada’s Valley of Fire and Ice: a place where two millions years of volcanic eruptions and Pleistocene glaciers have bequeathed landforms otherwise seen only in Iceland and a few remote corners of the world? Or who would have guessed that a mid-latitude protected area like Wells Gray preserves, in some biological groups, the highest levels of biodiversity anywhere on Earth?

“Wells Gray World Heritage Year is a great opportunity to get the message out. It’s time Canadians took the time to learn how exceptional the Clearwater Valley really is. Upgrading Wells Gray to a World Heritage Site will have profound implications for the economic future of surrounding communities. World Heritage designation not only strengthens the tourism sector, it also catalyzes economic development and regeneration, creates new funding opportunities, and stimulates private investment. This effort can only be good news for the people of southern inland British Columbia”.

Kicking off Wells Gray World Heritage Year on Saturday, 1 September is Dr. Cathie Hickson, an internationally respected volcanologist who has peered into the craters of volcanoes on six continents. Join Cathie for a guided bus and walking tour of the volcanic history of the Clearwater Valley. Meet at 9:30am in Kamloops (Thompson Rivers University) and travel up the North Thompson to join the rest of the group in Clearwater (Info Centre) around 11:00.  Scheduled stops include Spahats Falls, the Clearwater Overlook (for a bag lunch at noon), Green Mountain, the Mushbowl and Helmcken Falls, finishing at the Upper Clearwater Community Hall around 5:00.  Following a buffet dinner (to 6:30), Cathie will give an illustrated talk finishing at 7:30. Scheduled arrival back in Kamloops is 9:30pm.

Five additional events are being offered this autumn, with more to follow next spring and summer:

Sunday, September 9: Ring of Clear Water: The Fishes of Wells Gray

Join fisheries biologist Steve Maricle for an outing to glimpse the Chinook as they attempt the rapids at Bailey’s Chute.

Sunday, October 7: Mind of the Deer: Pioneer Ways in the Clearwater Valley

Well-known naturalist Trevor Goward will lead an afternoon hike along the original valley road from 1st to 3rd Canyon. Come enjoy the autumn colours and find out about the forces that have shaped the unique natural history of the Clearwater Valley and Wells Gray Park.

Sunday, October 21: Pioneer School Days.

Ellen Ferguson, Clara Ritcey and Hazel Wadlegger spent happy childhoods in the Upper Clearwater Valley more than half a century ago. Join them for tea at the Upper Clearwater School for an afternoon of reminiscences of school days in a one-room school house.

Saturday, November 10: Exploring Wells Gray the Way it Used to Be

Join raconteur Frank Ritcey us for a world premier showing of “More than Just Waterfalls” – a film about the Wells Gray Park most people don’t know about. Frank is well known for his quick wit and dry sense of humour! Frank’s father is Ralph Ritcey, whose name is synonymous with wildlife studies in Wells Gray Park.

Saturday, November 17: Bringing Wells Gray’s Past Online

Are you a history buff?  Do you love wild places?  Join us this afternoon for a work bee to transcribe some of the old papers and wildlife reports written on Wells Gray Park half a century ago. Help us kick start a new era of wildland research in the Clearwater Valley by making the old documents accessible online as well as by generating an online document suitable for Wikipedia.

All programmes are being offered free of charge or by donation. A charge of $70 ($45 from Clearwater) for Cathie Hickson’s volcanoes tour on 1 September covers bus rental, bag lunch and dinner. For more information or to sign up, please contact Dr. Tom Dickinson, Faculty of Science, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, tdickinson@tru.ca or call 250.828.5400. Space is limited so please register early.