For more than 40 years Anna Roberts has been a strong advocate of the Scout Island Nature Centre.
In recent months, the 87-year-old plant pathologist and McGill University graduate finds herself defending it because Mayor Walt Cobb has complained repeatedly that some people want more access to the area.
In fact, when Cobb single-handedly voted against renewing the Scout Island Nature Centre’s $12,500 fee-for-service contract during a council meeting in February, he said his concern wasn’t the money, but about “what they won’t let us do down there.”
Eager to share the centre’s history, Roberts said in 1966 the town of Williams Lake purchased the land from the Pacific Great Eastern Railway and established a tourist campsite and public beach on the main island and put in the causeway to gain access.
“When the city needed more land for the campsite and planned to fill the adjacent marsh for more parking, I stepped in,” Roberts said. “When I complained to council they got someone from Victoria to come and have a look to see if the marsh was of any use.”
In a report dated May 26, 1972, R.D. Harris and J.R. Oakey of the Canadian Wildlife Service said the marsh was small but important.
If the marsh was preserved and developed it would provide an opportunity to teach and learn for teachers, naturalists and students, the report stated.
Harris also encouraged council to apply to the National Second Century Fund of B.C. to help establish a nature reserve.
Negotiations between the town and the fund took place in 1972 and by 1973 a lease agreement was signed, with the understanding the campground would be removed within five years.
When the fund purchased the island from the town for $99,000 it stipulated that a nature centre was to be built.
Roberts was part of a volunteer committee struck by the town council that worked from 1973 to 1978 to oversee the building of the nature centre.
And in 1977, the nature house staff consisted of Jean Wellburn as teacher, naturalist in charge, Carole Hart as part-time artists, and summer students that year were Davie Hodgson, Yvonne Whebell and Donna Jefferson.
In 1978, the volunteer committee was disbanded and the Williams Lake Field Naturalists took over and began providing nature education.
One of those original field naturalists was Fred McMechan who still volunteers there today.
“For 40 years we have been the scapegoats,” McMechan said of the reality some people in the community did not like the fact that the campground was closed and activities at Scout Island are restricted. “But, generally speaking the city councils have been very supportive over the years.”
Interior and Coastal Mainland Conservation Land Manager of the Nature Trust of British Columbia, Carleton MacNaughton, told the Tribune the trust has always appreciated both the city and the Williams Lake Field Naturalists for their long-standing efforts in protecting and enhancing habitat and educational values at Scout Island.
Between 1973 and 1978 the trust acquired fee title ownership of 10.1 hectares of private conservation land on Scout Island, he added.
“The City of Williams Lake and Williams Lake Field Naturalists have been managing this property on our behalf for over 39 years,” MacNaughton said.
Portions of Scout Island owned by the trust were acquired to protect habitat for wildlife as well as nature education, he said, noting in the lease with the city, the city is responsible for protecting the natural vegetation and preserving the premises as a site of ecological interest.
“The city’s responsibilities are subsequently delegated to the Williams Lake Field Naturalists via sublease from the city,” he said.
When asked about what activities can take place at Scout Island, MacNaughton said all proposed activities on Scout Island are considered on a case by case basis to maintain the ecological values while providing a valuable educational experience.
“We are fortunate to have such a special site, where children, families, and visitors can enjoy and appreciate the natural world,” he added. “The Nature Trust looks forward to continued partnership with the city of Williams Lake and the Williams Lake Field Naturalists in protecting and enhancing the ecological values of this site for future generations.”
When city council approved the $12,500 fee-for-service agreement with Scout Island, council also agreed to meet with the Field Naturalists in the near future to discuss what other uses would be permitted there.
McMechan said something like non-motorized boat rentals could be a possibility, but did not want to say more because of the upcoming meeting.
A native plant garden Roberts established decades ago is still under her care.
“I put the plant names beside each species when it comes into bloom to help people learn about native plants,” Roberts said as she pointed to some sagebrush. “You can find this all over Farwell Canyon.”