More than 60 people were on hand Saturday morning as well-known Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman turned the sod to officially start the construction of Thompson Rivers University’s proposed TRU Wilderness Center near Wells Gray Park.
“What we’re doing here today couldn’t be more important,” Bateman said. “This could change hundreds of lives, so this little sod is kind of an important beginning.”
“The only way to get to a person’s heart is through experience. You can’t get it from a book.”
Bateman recalled the experience of an English schoolteacher who took a class of students to spend several weeks living in a village in the Middle East.
After they had been there a few days one of the village elders asked the teacher, “Why are your young people so useless?”
Developing an education and research center for Wells Gray Park has been a long struggle since it was mentioned in the park’s master plan in the mid-1980s, said TRU dean of science Tom Dickinson.
A committee of the Friends of Wells Gray Park promoted the idea for many years before it was taken over by what was then Caribou College.
Although housed in the somewhat primitive conditions of the former Upper Clearwater School, the education and research center has hosted more than 1,500 individual students for at least one day. There have been about 15,000 user days since the university took over.
The proposed TRU Wilderness Center would be a 2,500 sq. ft. building with five bedrooms that could accommodate 25 people.
It was to have been completed this summer but various problems have put back construction until next year.
BC Parks get about 20 million visitors per year, said Rick Careless of BC Spaces for Nature. This is about the same number as visit Canada’s federal park system, but Parks Canada’s budget is about 10 times that of BC Parks’.
“We need to at least double the budget for BC Parks,” Careless said. “If there’s a super in supernatural, it’s our parks system.”
A key feature should be bringing back the naturalist programs in BC Parks, he said.
It used to be that British Columbia and Louisiana were the only jurisdictions in North America without a park naturalist program. Recently, Louisiana reinstated its program and so B.C. is now alone.
A parks naturalist program is important because it helps educate people on the importance of parks and Nature, he said.
Below: Blake St. Peters, an architectural engineering student at TRU, shows a model of his design for the TRU Wilderness Center to be constructed near Wells Gray Park.