Scout Island Nature Centre welcomed a capacity crowd on Monday when Fraser River adventurers stopped by for dinner. Part of the Sustainable Living Leadership Program run by the Rivershed Society of B.C., participants began the journey at the headwater of the Fraser and will continue until the river meets the ocean in Vancouver.
The Scout Island dinner took place after day 12 of the water trek, and after a tour of the Potato House Heritage site. One of two local participants Lisa Bland, representing the Green Gazette environmental magazine, said that the trip was great so far. Bland is joined by fellow Williams Lake resident Oliver Berger for the trek.
“There was some exciting rough water and some rapids early on, which was fun,” she said. “There was sun and smoky skies, community dinners, hiking, camping and seeing parts of B.C. wilderness you can only see from the river.”
The trip includes canoe paddling, followed by rafting and more paddling. It will include cycling and one swimmer in the in the Fraser Canyon, from Lillooet to Tuckkwiohum (Boston Bar). The Voyageur Canoe paddles are taking place on the Lower Fraser.
“Over the years we’ve really been trying to build a community along the Fraser; this trip we’re doing a total of 11 community dinners, connecting with like-minded organizations working together;” said organizer MP Fin Donnelly. “We have good discussions over these dinners about how to tackle the tough problems facing the Fraser River and the watershed.”
He added that partnerships make what they do possible, saying a huge thank you to the local Fisheries and Oceans office, Potato House and Scout Island. “We are building a family of people concerned in all those areas, working together for this incredible river system,” he said.
“There are 34 main watersheds or tributaries on the Fraser that we’ve identified. We feel that these watersheds are in trouble, and that they need CPR – Conservation Protection and Restoration.”
Shane Turnbull, trip leader for Fraser River Rafting Expeditions, said that in 1995 Fin Donnelly (M.P. for Port Moody/Coquitlam) came to them with the idea that he wanted to swim the Fraser River, to raise awareness and effect a change in the quality of the river, in First Nations and in salmon.
“Fin was a long-distance marathon swimmer, but we thought he didn’t know what he was talking about. It’s one of the greatest rivers on earth, with huge rapids, lots of wild water and places where it’s hard enough to take a raft through, let alone swim,” he explained.
“We didn’t know much about swimming, and he didn’t know much about rafting. A couple of months later he called Darwin, our owner, and said he was still serious about doing it.”
Turnbull said Donnelly ended up joining one of his expeditions to check it out. “Darwin told me to let him swim a couple times to see what he thought. One of the first places I suggested he swim, he jumped off the boat right in the middle of a whirlpool. When he came up, his eyes were really big, but he just spat out some water and started stroking through the water,” he continued.
“He had no fear. I would never swim in the Fraser like that, just for fun.”
The next year Donnelly started at the headwaters of the Fraser and swam down through McBride.
“Darwin met up with him first, and I met up with him in Prince George and followed him down to Chilliwack,” Turnbull stated.
“It was an epic undertaking: a super human feat of endurance, perseverance and nerve. He swam everything but the big rapids.”
Turnbull said that by 2000, Donnelly had more support and more sponsors. “His next idea was to raise more awareness and more money and bring environmental groups along the rivershed so that their networking could affect more change and bring about more grassroots preservation initiatives. Instead of being disconnected up and down the river, Fin could bring everyone together,” he added.
After 2000, the idea came to start a river school having to do with sustainable leadership, and that’s where the Sustainable Living Leadership Program came from, according to Turnbull.
“After 16 years, almost 100 people have graduated from this program, and all of them have gone on to do something worthy — things like recycling initiatives, business opportunities, the Potato House, volunteerism and more,” he explained.
“The Fraser is one of the greatest rivers in the world. It goes through all these different climatic zones: from the Boreal forests to the hot sandy desert, to coastal wilderness, including some of the biggest white water on earth,” he stated.
“You’re surrounded by First Nations culture and history. You’re surrounded by wildlife like no other place, as well as beautiful sandy beaches and mountain cliffs. There’s so much that makes this one of the greatest river journeys on earth.”