“In winter in the woods alone
against the trees I go …
… I link a line of shadowy tracks
across the tinted snow.”
– Robert Frost
It is so tempting to hunker down on winter days that don’t require us to be somewhere. A hot drink, a favourite book and a chenille throw for chilly feet – or maybe a languishing knitting project – can be strong allurements to keep us in.
But there’s nothing like a fresh fall of snow to invigerate the spirit. Following the sometimes hectic month of December, an escape into the snow covered woods can be like a cleanse for the soul.
One of our favourite places to walk – at any time of year, but especially when the snow piles up like so much frosting over land and trees – is the Mission Creek Greenway in Kelowna. Wending its way from Lakeshore Road in the Mission to KLO Creek in Scenic Canyon Regional Park some 17 kms away, the linear park feels so far from the rush of traffic and the busyness of life, despite being only minutes away. And since it crosses at least seven main roads, there are plenty of opportunities to get on and off where you like.
It’s not as good a place to go for those who are serious about getting out into nature, or for those who like to stroll in solitude. Morning walkers and joggers are generally greeted with a hearty “good morning!” by those who pass by. And even on cold days, encounters are not infrequent.
But even with civilization so close at hand, you never know when woodsy wildlife might be waiting around a bend. In addition to the expected ducks, birds, squirrels and turtles, we have come across deer, owls, falcons, a bald eagle and an entire flock of turkey vultures, and once heard rumours of (but never actually saw) a bear in the vicinity. Of course these weren’t all during the winter months, but you just never know who you’ll encounter when.
According to the Greenway’s website, Phase 1, from Lakeshore Road to Ziprick Road, was completed in 1998 after two years of work, and was the most successful community funded project in Kelowna’s history. More than 16 acres of land was donated by landowners, valued in excess of $300,000. Hundreds of volunteers donated time, and school children were given class credit for participating in creek clean-ups and creating artwork and written material for the interpretive signs.
Over a thousand people are estimated to use the trail every day. They include walkers, joggers, cyclists, equestrians, cross country skiers, babies in push chairs, dogs on leashes, lovers, singletons, large and small groups, families, friends, artists, writers, photographers, and dreamers.
As if the natural architecture of the land was not enough, in 2006 a City funded public art initiative saw the addition of three skeletal steel vessels, created by Richard Watts, installed between Gordon Drive and KLO Road. According to a plaque mounted beside the vessel (above), the artwork is intended to “evoke the passage of time and a connection between the human and natural world.”
The creek that traces its way through the land along side the trail has an interesting past. In addition to being a major source of fish for the Okanagan First Nations people long before European settlers moved into the valley, the plants that grew around it also supplied them with food, building materials and medicine.
As the area was settled in the last half of the 1800s, the creek also provided power for a grist mill, was used to irrigate the first fruit trees on Father Pandosy’s Mission, and was a transportation route. At one point, there was even gold to be found in the creek bed – although that was quickly depleted.
To this day, the City of Kelowna considers the creek a significant contributer to the economic develpment of the area, both for irrigation and domestic water, and closely regulates it – and in 1997 the B.C. Heritage Rivers Board granted it B.C. Heritage River status.
But for those who love a good stroll, the value of the long stretch of walkway – and adjoining water-way – is as much in the gurgle of the water as it splashes over its icy course, the song of the birds overhead, and the steady crunch of snow underfoot as anything.
And while it’s lovely year round, there’s something about the Greenway – which is not so green – in winter. Perhaps it’s the curvacious line of a tree, often boasting such treasure as a nest high overhead, not so easily seen in summer when dense leaves obscure the naked form. Then there’s the web-like network of branches that reach out to each other, framing the view. And the stunning silhoutte of rocks and shrubs, pushed onto centre stage in front of a white snow curtain.
To experience this, walking-stick firmly in hand – or perhaps a trusty sled in tow – helps make the mid-winter a little less bleak. A little more tolerable – at least in little doses. And when you get home, rest assured, that hot drink and blanket will be waiting for you – and will feel even more comforting after.
– Story and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier