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Gaga over Skaha

MEC and its members spearheaded effort to preserve bluffs

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Crystal Klym’s efforts to rid Penticton’s Skaha Bluffs of invasive plant species has earned her the nickname “Noxious Weed.” That moniker might not suit everyone’s taste, especially a young woman’s, but during a tour of the bluffs last July, the South Okanagan Valley resident told Pique she proudly wore the handle.

As Klym led the way along the trails which run below a series of renowned climbing pitches, including the sheer-faced Doctor’s Wall, she repeatedly pulled up knee-high Dalmatian toadflax. Her interest wasn’t in the yellow flowers budding on the slender stalks. Instead, she examined the stems for signs of a weevil being tested as a bio-control agent on invasive species such as knapweed, mullion, and thistle. Weevils eat the stems, she explained, which stresses the plant into producing fewer seeds. “Even though toadflax is a root propagator, the bugs might help make the plant feel overwhelmed and,” she sighed, “give up.”

For Bill Turner, giving up is not an option. On the phone from his office in Victoria, the executive director of The Land Conservancy (TLC) of British Columbia laughed heartily when asked if he ever thought the multi-year campaign to purchase the Skaha Bluffs and surrounding land might not bear fruit. “I never lost faith,” he said. “You don’t lose if you never give up. That’s the secret to success in this business.” Indeed, on Jan. 19, TLC, along with its principal partners, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and The Nature Conservancy of Canada, announced that they had joined with Mountain Equipment Co-op MEC), over 700 of whose members made personal donations to support the purchase, plus a diverse group of other supporters, to acquire a 304-hectare property including the popular Skaha Bluffs recreational climbing area for $5.25 million.

Anders Ourum, former executive director of the Climber’s Access Society of British Columbia, believes this is the largest sum ever spent in North America to acquire a climbing site. In conversation with> Pique , Ourum said there were both parallels and dissimilarities between the scenario that played out in Penticton and the CASBC’s efforts to preserve the Little Smoke Bluffs in Squamish a decade ago. “They’re both in urban settings. We were able to preserve the Smoke Bluffs for climbers and hikers as a municipal park but that didn’t stop development from going ahead immediately adjacent.”

Ourum pointed out that while there was still work to do to finalize the details of the newly-proposed Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park, the threat of urban sprawl had been blunted there. “We could be thanking people for a whole week,” he said, particularly MEC, which Ourum credited as being the most instrumental partner. “They went to TLC with $400,000 impetus-and-seed money. That’s where it all started several years ago when the Co-op said the access situation was critical.”

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