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Nothing but a walk in the park
Toes are dangling in the cool waters of the creek, the only sounds are kids laughing and dogs barking as they are splashing together in the water. Across the clearing, a mom and her baby are sitting on a blanket in the shade. This peaceful scene is worlds away from the situation only a couple of hours earlier: a couple of large dogs with a ton of pent up energy and a three-year-old that refuses to have a nap, crammed into a small, hot car with two exasperated parents who are not sure this trip to Wycliffe Regional Park on a Saturday afternoon is really the best idea.
Fortunately, it is only about a ten minute drive from Cranbrook to the park. The 164 hectare area is the largest of the parks owned and operated by the Regional District of East Kootenay. It includes the vast day picnic area that is open seasonally – mid-April to mid-October – from 8 am until dusk as well as the Wycliffe Exhibition Grounds and a Girl Guides camp.
Until the 1960s, the area was used as a tree nursery by the provincial government. After operation ceased, they sold it to the Regional District for one dollar. With a lot of vision and hard work under the direction of the first park foreman, David Henderson, the RDEK created a spot that preserved the natural beauty of the area ,while creating trails, sports facilities and other recreational opportunities.
This afternoon, we park beside the baseball diamond and walk past the tree that is planted in honour of the late RDEK Director Norm Walter. Our destination is the new Wycliffe Park Discovery Trail that winds all the way around the park and covers just over three kilometres.
First off, the trail dips down at the edge of the field, soft bark mulch cushioning our step on the steep slope. It is a hot day, but already a nice cool breeze coming through the trees is giving some comfort. On the next level, we get to a clearing with a large day use area. Several picnic benches, fire pits and horseshoe pits and a bocce pit are clustered around a large, covered shelter.
This is one of six day use areas in the park. All of them are accessible by vehicle and available for group bookings. They are used for anything from grad parties to family get-togethers and company picnics. And they offer shelter to hikers, dog walkers and visitors, just looking for a peaceful place to relax. School groups use the sports fields for tournaments and the entire park for outdoor activities.
“The number of visitors to the park has been increasing steadily over the last years, especially this year,” says Parks Foreman Chris Kessler. He emphasizes there is no cost to use this facility, even free firewood is included. Every day, park staff make sure the park is immaculate; they straighten up the day use areas and sites and clean fire pits and outhouses. In the evenings, Kessler patrols the park. He says this gives visitors a sense of security. Overnight stays are not allowed – for liability reasons and to ensure peace and quiet for wildlife.
There are a few rules, focused around a simple principle: leave the park as clean as you found it and respect other park users, wildlife and the hard work park staff. They keep trails clear of debris, many sections still show fine lines, left by meticulous raking.
Right across from the shelter area, a small sign announces a shortcut down to Perry Creek, however, we stay on the main trail as it winds up the hill. It takes us a while to make our way up the bank. This is due less to the difficulty of the trail and more so because of the amount of distractions along the way. There is a lot to see, especially if you have the natural curiosity of a three-year-old. ‘What lives in that hole? Look, a spider’s web! Why is the squirrel making noise?’
We catch glimpses of the hoodoos across the valley. We walk through dense forest with firs and pines, and open, grassy areas populated by tall larch trees. Birds and crickets provide the background music as well as the rumble of Perry Creek that gets louder and louder as we get closer.
Before we dip down to the creek, a bench invites us to take a break. We pause for a quick snack of raisins and a drink of water and enjoy the view. After a few more discoveries, the water beckons and we continue on, down the slope towards Perry Creek.
Once again, the forest opens up and we find another day use area, maybe the most spectacular of them all. A small shelter is nestled into the forest edge, with picnic benches and a fire pit grouped around it. Just steps away, a rocky beach invites weary travelers to cool their tired feet. The hoodoos straight across provide the most magnificent backdrop.
A couple of families have set up camp for the afternoon. Our children don’t need introductions - they climb across large boulders, throw sticks for the dogs and sneak wild raspberries. The tall trees around the clearing provide refreshing shade for the adults and a baby is snoozing on a blanket.
The area is almost too inviting – it is late by the time we pack up and move on. It is not difficult to find the Wycliffe Park Discovery Trail. All day use areas are connected to it and it is clearly marked. As we march on, there are more breathtaking views of hoodoos and the Rocky Mountains. We still cheat on the way back to the car – doubling back, sneaking through a smaller day use area and connecting with the shortcut we snubbed on the way in. Getting the tired troops to walk back to the vehicle under their own steam seems worth sacrificing some spectacular scenery.
The way home in the car passes considerably calmer than the way to the park. The exhausted dogs are laying down in the back, and the three-year-old is dozing off, happily clutching some new treasures for her rock and stick collection. It was indeed a great idea for spending a Saturday afternoon.