Conservation Covenant – Mission Creek Greenway

Conservation Covenant Project
In 2019, the COLT board completed work to register a Conservation Covenant on lands adjacent to property we own at Benvoulin Woods on the Mission Creek Greenway. This new covenant adds addition protection to the land and, at the same time, increases the environmental value of the Benvoulin Woods by increasing the overall area of protected lands. While there is no question that the Mission Creek Greenway provides the broader community with a valuable connection to the region’s environment, the creek and its riparian lands are also a critical wildlife habitat area unto themselves.

To strengthen those environmental values, COLT continues to work with local government, environmental agencies and, in the case of this Conservation Covenant, private land owners.

Mission Creek Restoration Initiative (MCRI)

Mission Creek is by far the largest watershed in the Okanagan Valley, and its waters have refreshed Okanagan Lake for thousands of years. Its seasonal flows have also nurtured one of the most important fish habitats in the interior. In the 1950s, much of Mission Creek’s lower reaches was channelized – dropping it from a meandering stream of 30+ km to just over 10km.

Since then, the rich fish stocks that are important to both recreational and First Nation fishery have shrunken dramatically. While some minor gains in flood control may have been achieved, the low lying lands in Kelowna were still susceptible to flooding.

For more than 15 years now, COLT has been an important member of the Mission Creek Restoration Initiative (MCRI), which has the goal of restoring the creek to its former ecological value in the region. The MCRI itself is an inter-jurisdictional group providing local government with advice and counsel in the rehabilitation of Mission Creek and its vital riparian habitats.

COLT’s role with the MCRI changed dramatically in 2015 when we became the sponsor of grant applications to begin a dike set-back project on the lowest section of Mission Creek in the Mission Sports Fields area. Over the ensuing 4 years COLT has been successful in securing almost $500,000 toward the improvement of fish habitat, riparian habitat improvements, flood control and more. For the most part – this funding is not available to local government (City of Kelowna or the RDCO) as only community groups, non-profits and First Nations are permitted to apply.

The dike set-back and fish habitat components of the project are into a monitoring phase at the moment. At the same time, COLT continues to work closely with the RDCO, the City of Kelowna, and other MCRI partners to ensure our Conservation Covenants and other environmental projects along the creek are supported and wildlife habitat and other ecological values are improved.

Munson Pond Park

Munson Pond, an ecological gem in Kelowna, didn’t have such a glamorous beginning. In the early 1960s, it started its life as a gravel pit that quickly filled in because of such high ground water levels. Since then, it has been a haven for migrating birds, a hunting ground for Osprey, and a home for Blue heron, Western painted turtle, and many other animals.

In 2014, the City of Kelowna approached the Central Okanagan Land Trust (COLT) to plumb its interest in becoming a partner to help naturalize the pond. The City had previously purchased the property for future park development, and it was clear there were benefits that went well beyond playing fields and pathways.

At the same time, a long time farming family who owned land adjacent to the pond applied for a home-site severance through the Agricultural Land Commission. As part of that work, the City of Kelowna purchased an additional small plot on the south side of the park to act as a wetland buffer between the pond and the remaining farmland.

With these elements in place, COLT came on board to hold a Conservation Covenant on the newly acquired lands and began seeking funding to support the City’s interests in a wetland naturalization project on the site. An application was submitted to Environment Canada’s ‘EcoAction’ program, and the project was approved in the amount of $100,000 over three years. These were funds that the City was not eligible to apply for but, as COLT held a Conservation Covenant on the property, we were open to the application process.

The 3-year project complete and we saw wide community support in everything from planting and weeding to the placement of turtle-basking logs, and installation of beaver guard wire. Starbucks employees were out to volunteer, the Central Okanagan Naturalists Club added significantly to the basic biological inventory, and the local Lions Club members helped with site preparation, seeding and weeding. The Girl Guides of Canada also pitched in to help.

The Kelowna Christian School is directly adjacent to the new Munson Pond Park, and since the inception of the project hundreds of students have taken part in weeding, planting and watering work on the site. One very excited middle school class spent 6 weeks learning about the pond’s ecosystems, its flora and fauna, and the impact of human activity on wildlife habitats.

Over the project timeline, the Munson Pond Naturalization Project saw two new viewing platforms installed, new interpretive signage added, as well as additional plantings, and beaver guard work. All of this is in addition to the City’s installation of a 1km trail around the pond. For Kelowna residents and visitors, Munson Pond Park has taken on a new role in the network of wetlands and riparian refuges in the Central Okanagan.

Rose Valley Pond

The first project COLT was involved in was the acquisition of a lot that included part of Rose Valley Pond, located adjacent to Rose Valley Elementary School in West Kelowna which was completed in 1992. The pond is favoured habitat for both yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds, as well as many other marsh and aquatic species, and it was felt it would make an ideal outdoor classroom.

The developer agreed in 1991 to hold the .54-hectare property without interest for one year, and see if the community could come up with $65,000 to purchase it.

Students rallied around with ‘Save our Pond’ signs and t-shirts with the yellow-headed blackbird printed on them were sold to raise funds. Neighbours, parents, teachers and other groups came on board to help raise the needed funds and the developer reduced the price by $5,000. In the end, the lot was purchased with donated funds, including a $5,000 grant from COLT, and $20,000 from the Nature Trust of B.C., which holds title to the lot.

Because of the grassroots effort to conserve the pond, the Regional District asked the province to add the remainder of the pond to the park along with adjacent property between the pond and Rose Valley Reservoir, over a hill to the west from it, and a lease was entered into that allowed the park around the pond to be expanded to 245 hectares. That lease expires in 2016, but it has been renewed in the past when it expired.

Lot 502   Okanagan Mountain Park

In 1992, B.C. Parks was concerned about development of a privately-owned, 250-acre waterfront lot within Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, across the lake from Peachland, because of the habitat disturbance that would result from its development. Acquisition of Lot 502 was also strongly supported by the Regional District, and eventually a property transfer was arranged that included Crown-owned property along Highway 97 known as Goat’s Peak.

To verify the community’s commitment, COLT provided $25,000 in 2000 toward the costs to acquire the property. In a complicated arrangement between the province and the landowner, three small Crown-owned parcels of land in the region (including Goat’s Peak in West Kelowna), along with funds from Forest Renewal B.C., the Okanagan Similkameen Parks Society and COLT, plus a gift of $69,000 by the owners deducted from the appraised value, were used to purchase Lot 502.

Thomson Marsh

In 1990, Gifford and Brenda Thomson and Ken and Dorothy Thomson decided they wanted to preserve a sanctuary of land surrounding Thomson Brook where it flowed through a portion of their Gordon Road farm which they were selling to the City of Kelowna for a community recreation facility.

They wished to ensure that wetland habitat was preserved undisturbed, for birds and wildlife, in perpetuity. They had a long-time involvement in the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club and Brenda was the first President of the Friends of Mission Creek who initiated the Mission Creek Greenway project. She was also a COLT director for a short time.

In 1993, the family made a donation of 4.5 acres to the Trust when the land was sold to the city, but the specific site was not determined until work on the land was complete. In the interim, a receipt was issued by the City, with the idea that the sanctuary would be transferred to COLT when the boundaries were identified. In the end, in lieu of ownership, COLT holds a ‘no disturb’ preservation covenant on the property that was agreed on with the city in 2005.

Today, the watercourse through the property takes up more than the original acreage and the whole length of Thomson Brook is a sanctuary, in addition to the wetland. Adjacent to Thomson Marshes, the City has created an arboretum with a walkway between the access road for the Capital News Centre recreation complex and the waterway and wetland. COLT conducts annual inspections of the sanctuary to ensure the conditions from the original baseline inventory prepared by Biologist Nicole Thomas in September, 2004 are maintained.

Rotary Marsh at Brandt Creek

At the instigation of Rotary Club of Kelowna members, John Woodworth and Art Hughes-Games, the club proposed in March, 1995 that the City embark on a foreshore restoration project at the mouth of Brandt Creek in the City’s downtown area.

Before pioneer settlement in the area, Kelowna’s foreshore was primarily marshlands and the vision was to provide visitors and residents a taste of how it used to be, while restoring the area to more-valuable habitat for fish and wildlife, as a sanctuary that people could visit. In the end, the Rotary Club committed some $200,000 in services of members and funding to the project. The Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club was also a strong supporter and a contributor to the project.

COLT contributed funds toward a professional study to determine the complexity and feasibility of the 1.8 hectare project, as a first step. By 2001, COLT had contributed an additional $9,600, much of which went to signs interpreting the marsh for visitors. Donations totaling a further $5,100 were received by COLT toward the project.

Today, it is a city park with a boardwalk through it for people, and amenities to encourage waterbirds, including ospreys, to make their homes there. It has become an extremely popular walking area for people as well, with hundreds visiting it daily.

Benvoulin Woods

Long before establishment of the popular Mission Creek Greenway, that meandering creek was straightened and diked to prevent its seasonal inundation of adjacent properties. Much of the greenway uses those dikes.

In the 1990s the Friends of Mission Creek recognized the importance of preserving portions of the creek’s original course and asked the City of Kelowna to purchase the Benvoulin Woods from Esther Demofsky. Subsequently, about 20 per cent of the property was subdivided off for use as part of the greenway. Her conditions for sale of her property were that the Benvoulin Woods would remain undisturbed in perpetuity and that the City not own that property.

So, the City purchased the whole property in 1998 but transferred the Benvoulin Woods section to COLT, which had been named as a partner in the greenway project for just such a purpose.
She also donated $25,000 of the purchase price back to the city, and COLT leased the property to the Regional District to manage as a sanctuary for eagles, herons and other wildlife.

A baseline inventory of the property was prepared in August 2004 by Biologist, Nicole Thomas. It forms the basis for annual inspections by COLT to ensure it is preserved as undisturbed habitat.

Haase Pond

COLT contributed $10,000 toward purchase of the Haase property in the Rutland area of Kelowna in 1996, along with $5,000 from an anonymous donor. Along with funds from the Okanagan Region Wildlife Heritage Fund Society, City of Kelowna and Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Regional District purchased the property, and agreed to hold it as a wildlife sanctuary in perpetuity. The property is part of the second phase of the Mission Creek Greenway.

Robert Lake Bird Sanctuary

Although normally lakes are provincially-owned, Robert Lake in the Glenmore area of Kelowna is actually owned by the property owners around it, with each owning a portion of the lake that abuts their land. It’s believed this is because the lake occasionally dries up. However, it is unique habitat for wildlife, particularly birds, and it is a popular spots from birders, both local ones, and visitors to the area.

In the early 1960s the highways ministry acquired a right-of-way through the middle of the lake. All properties on the eastern shore are serviced by a private road along the lakeshore. In 1998, Karen Frost, who owned land on the western shore, agreed to sell five acres of foreshore and lake bottom to COLT. About $20,000 of the purchase price came from a single donor in memory of her father, Charlie Clarke.

Since the Regional District needed to subdivide the property for the sale to be complete, the property title went to the Regional District with a covenant held by COLT to ensure it remains in its natural state.

The Regional District has erected an information kiosk there, along with a viewing site that respects wildlife. There is an agreement with the Regional District, that the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club will be consulted on the management of this unique feature of the valley.

A baseline inventory of the property’s natural features was completed in November, 2004.

Gellatly Nut Farm

In 2000, COLT donated $5,000 toward the purchase of the Gellatly Nut Farm in West Kelowna to help the Regional District to purchase the property for a park – in part for the extensive foreshore for recreation and in part due to the historic values of the property.

Johns Family Nature Conservancy Regional Park

From the early days of the Central Okanagan Land Trust, brother and sister Alf and Nancy Johns had announced that they wished to maintain the ecological diversity of their 800-acre property on Kelowna’s south slopes in its natural state in perpetuity. To do that, they decided to donate the land to COLT to ensure it was maintained for their community, as land for wildlife, after they were gone.

Nancy passed away in 2002 and Alf continued to live on the land until his death in 2011, donating 160 acres of the land to the trust in 2002 and 80 acres in each of 2003 and 2004. The Central Okanagan Regional District agreed to lease the property as future parkland, with the understanding that their leasehold rights, and news of the gift, would be deferred until Alf’s death.

Part of that agreement states that the Johns’ wishes for the property’s habitat to be protected for wildlife, with limited public access, will be respected, with COLT continuing as property-owner to ensure that is carried out.

In 2003, the Okanagan Mountain Park Wildfire severely scorched portions of the 800 acres, so some of the timber was harvested, with the proceeds going towards replanting and fencing the property. In addition, Tree Canada donated $5,000 towards trees to help in the replanting, as much of the natural regeneration was curtailed by the heat of the fire, which burned the seeds.

Biologist Nicole Thomas prepared a baseline inventory of the property’s natural features in October, 2004 and members of COLT conduct annual inspections to ensure they are protected. In the spring of 2013, an inventory conducted one day by the birding group of the Central Okanagan Naturalist Club on the property resulted in 55 bird species being identified.

In 2013, during the dedication of the property as parkland, the provincial government announced that 800 acres of Crown land situated both within and to the south of the new park, had been protected with a reserve restricting industrial activities and other tenures on the property and protecting it for recreation and wildlife. This will provide a continuous corridor of wild land across the south slopes above Kelowna to Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park.

Cedar Mountain Park

Cedar Mountain Regional Park on Chute Lake Road became part of the Johns Family Nature Conservancy Regional Park in 2013, as it is immediately adjacent to it. It includes a popular local climbing area called The Crags.

In 1997, it became necessary to acquire the parking area used for this park, as it was on private property, and it would be expensive to provide alternate access. COLT’s inaugural president, Colin Elliott, was spokesman for the landowners and, even though he was no longer a board member, he obtained consent to sell the five-acre parking area to the Regional District and COLT.

COLT obtained a grant of $4,000 from the Canada Trust Friends of the Environment and a private donation from the Adams family, and contributed $10,000, half the purchase price, so the Regional District could purchase it.

COLT holds a conservation covenant that requires it be preserved as part of the park in perpetuity.

The Strachan Covenant

The Central Okanagan Land Trust has the ability to hold covenants on land, with a stipulation that it be maintained in a natural state. An example is the agreement with the Strachan family, who own 124 acres at the south end of Lakeshore Road.

In 2008, Mr. Strachan applied to the regional district to subdivide the property into four 17-acre lots, but the CORD board asked that the COLT hold a covenant on the land to prevent further subdivision and ensure 90 per cent of each remain undeveloped. He has also committed to donate 54 acres to the adjacent Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park.

In November, 2009, the COLT board agreed to hold a density covenant on the properties, with the verbal assurance from the regional district that an environmental covenant would be drawn up, with a right of access annually to inspect each and ensure the environmental covenant’s terms were being respected.

While these lots have yet to be sold and developed, and the environmental covenant finalized, COLT’s involvement to this point serves as an example of the sort of role it can play in relationships between private property owners and civic government bodies.