Column: Burning and trailblazing on the grasslands

Last week here I was bemoaning the lack of interpretation and information about trails in the Churn Creek Protected Area.

Last week here I was bemoaning the lack of interpretation and information about trails in the Churn Creek Protected Area.

This week I want to praise what there is and report briefly on some of the mapping work being done on the trails through the area.

The kiosk and interpretive posters on a short trail just inside the protected area (PA) at Churn Creek where it empties into the Fraser River is very informative and the site is well designed and developed.

A partnership between the Friends of Churn Creek and the First Nations in the area with government and other third parties enabled the construction of the interpretation site.

A toilet (outhouse) would no doubt make anyone’s visit more enjoyable. Traipsing through the prickly pear cactus requires a good set of hiking boots. The cacti were in full bloom, as colourful a show as I have ever seen.

The Saskatoons as big as a half inch were just coming on and we added these to our morning pancakes. Water and sunshine at just the right time does wonders for the berries.

Two half-day hikes were just right for me and for my guests from the city.

They loved the area. Unfortunately, I am a poor guide but could help a little. I know I should not go anywhere without Plants of Southern Interior by Parish, Coupe and Lloyd.

However, we had visited the kiosk before our hike.

I wanted to see it and knew there would be pictures and explanations of the ecology of the lower, middle and upper grasslands with their distinctive plants.

On one hike we visited an old homestead, which would have benefitted from a poster with the short history of the place. Some of us are interested in the settler’s history. Others, me included, would love to know more about the Aboriginal uses of the place.

It was interesting to see the burned areas and witness the renewal and succession taking place and see the encroachment of trees and brush being knocked back for grasses.

The June issue of The Beef Magazine has an article about burning grasslands as a way of controlling the movement of cattle and enriching sites economically and ecologically.

As a way of updating information about documenting the main trails through the area along the Fraser, I spoke with Mike Kennedy, a citizen researcher working with various other professionals about recent developments.

Mike tells me that there was a report done on the Fraser corridor’s trails from the early days starting with the First Nation’s trails which were then used by fur traders, then the gold minors and later by early settlers.

A Google Earth search reveals the trail on the east side of the Fraser. The trail on the west side is more difficult to discern, as through the forested areas recent roads have covered portions of the trail.

In particular, though, the west trail enters the PA at Lone Cabin Creek, passing north through the PA and on up to Sheep Creek can be seen to the educated viewer.

“Blaze on” I say to the volunteer and other mapmakers.

And keep up the prescribed burns mimicking nature and the forerunner stewards of the grasslands.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.

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