Hundreds are using the Okanagan Rail Trail every day, thousands every week and hundreds of thousands in the nearly five years since this $30-million recreational investment officially opened on Sept. 27, 2018.
However, only a few venture into more challenging territory – this week's Secret Okanagan Spot in the SOS series. And that trail leads to another now-almost-forgotten SOS.
The secret spot is Kal Crystal Waters Trail which northbound Okanagan Rail Trail users can divert to exactly 3.3 kilometres south of Kekuli Bay Provincial Park. A trail sign incorrectly says Kal Crystal Waters Trail is 3.3 kilometres long (which actually just brings you to the western boundary of the provincial park). The first part of this trail is a long steep hill – full power, low gear on bikes – but it does flatten out. You can also connect via Crystal Waters Road. (The Sheriff has only done that once because it was so steep that the Sheriff walked his e-bike.)
In fact, you can continue north on Kal Crystal Waters Trail – the old, old narrow original highway. It is more challenging than the ORT with sections of ancient ruptured asphalt in-between its wide gravel path.
At several benches, you can relax and quietly enjoy the panoramic views of Kalamalka Lake from a hillside perspective compared to the lake-level busy, busy rail trail.
Past the East Bailey Road-Highway 97 parking lot, Kal Crystal Waters Trail eventually connects to High Ridge Road, the access to Kekuli Bay Provincial Park. Still heading north, now on a tar-and-gravel road, turn right onto Kalamalka Lakeview Drive. Left goes back to four-lane Highway 97.
Long-time Okanagan Valley residents will recognize Kalamalka Lakeview Drive as the original two-lane Highway 97 before the four-lane superhighway was constructed up the hillside. Those long-time residents will remember almost everyone stopping at the then-popula Kal Lake Lookout, a pullout with spectacular views of Kalamalka Lake in front of you and to the south, and of the Coldstream Valley to the east. The large parking lot is now empty most days of the week.
Coldstream Valley's potential was seen by Forbes and Charles Vernon in 1863 when travelling to their silver claim 64 kilometres (40 miles) to the east. In 1864, the brothers preempted 405 fertile hectares (1,000 acres) which became Coldstream Ranch. Its products ranged from stage coach horses to vegetables and hops. At one time, the ranch had Canada's largest orchard.
At the north end of the Kalamalka Lakeview Drive lookout by the washrooms, the trail continues down a steep narrow path to the subdivision on Lakeview Drive. Straight ahead is Kickwillie Loop Road to the ORT and its new parking lot/washroom.
As always, timing is everything. And now is the time to explore the subalpine and its unique short-season environment for plants. The easiest access, of course, is the gondolas and chairlifts at Southern Interior ski resorts where it can be 10C degrees cooler than the valley bottom.
"Big White Ski Resort’s wildflower meadows are an amazing natural phenomenon," says marketing associate Deanna Christensen. "Extensive meadows occur above the zone of dense coniferous forest and below the highest elevations of the treeless ‘alpine’ zone. At roughly
2,000 metres, trees are reduced in stature and interspersed with these open meadows. It is this ‘subalpine’ zone where we see a stunning display of wildflowers reaching their peak period of bloom in July and August. Due to variations in elevation and topography, some wildflower species can be seen blooming over a four- to six-week period."
The extensive network of hiking trails at Big White offers the opportunity to enjoy wildflowers in the forest environment near the village at 1,750 metres up to the subalpine meadows, and even higher to the upper tree-less alpine zone at 2,200 metres.
"The Bullet Chairlift can lift you to the heart of the wildflower meadows and the easy Alpine Meadows hiking trail. However, you will see a wider variety of wildflowers in different environments if you explore the other trails or if you hike either up from or down to the village. Sightseeing chairlifts are just $15 and provide access to all our alpine trails. Tots and pets are free," she said.
At SilverStar, "wildflowers are in full bloom," says Ian Jenkins, director of sales and marketing. "Whether you're riding a bike or exploring on foot, escape the valley heat this weekend and admire the colourful sea of wildflowers blanketing the SilverStar slopes."
SilverStar is now offering 50 per cent off downhill biking tickets on weekdays and 25 per cent off on weekends to active military personnel or veterans. CF-One or Canadian Armed Forces Identity Card is required at checkout.
A reminder that Mountain Bikers of the Central Okanagan only has one more month of Group MTB Rides but the organization still has its Cranksgiving Event on Sept. 30 - Oct. 1.
Members can also participate in Big White's second annual Enduro on Aug. 19. SilverStar hosts an MTB Maintenance session (led by Nothing in the Pantry) at 6 p.m. on Aug. 3. It's for women, by women, and designed to help women diagnose and manage common maintenance issues.
Feedback from column reader Elaine (Dunsdon) Gibbons: "I read with much interest your article on Castanet with regard to biking along Garnet Valley Road to the dam site in Summerland. My grandfather homesteaded in the 1800s in Garnet Valley and one of his many grandchildren still lives in that area. I have pictures of the dam being built and the very rudimentary cabin my grandfather erected in order to have a home for my English grandmother, who came from a very proper English family to live in 'the Wild West.'”
Osoyoos Desert Centre's education series continues on Aug. 4 with From the Ground Up: Bringing Back the Burrowing Owl to B.C.
Athene cunicularia hypugaea, the Western Burrowing Owl, is a species at risk in Canada, extirpated from B.C. in the 1980s. For 30 years, the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of British Columbia (BOCS-BC) has been working on reintroducing burrowing owls to South Okanagan grasslands through captive breeding and habitat enhancement.
Lauren Meads, executive director of BOCS-BC, will introduce her very special guest, Pluto, while discussing the successes and obstacles of working with this remarkable grassland bird.
On Aug. 5, it's Snakes of the Okanagan, a perennial favourite. Snake biologist Lindsay Whitehead from Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre will talk about the seven different snake species of the South Okanagan.
You can learn about current conservation efforts to protect snake species at risk, snake safety tips and what to do when you encounter a snake on the trail.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.