Thompson Rivers University plans to build Wells Gray Wilderness Center this year, dean of science Tom Dickinson told Clearwater council last Tuesday.
The facility will be entirely devoted to education, he said, and will not compete with any existing businesses.
It is designed to accommodate 20 people at a time, with kitchen, living room, bedrooms and handicapped-accessible bathrooms. Solar panels should help make it self-sufficient, while large, south-facing windows will help with the heating.
Constructing the center is just part of a process that began for him more than 20 years ago, said Dickinson.
Shortly after he arrived at what was then called Cariboo College to instruct biology he took a ski trip in Wells Gray Park.
“I fell in love with the entire area,” he said. “I even met Ralph Ritcey studying moose on the way home. For a biologist, what better introduction to an area could there be?”
Since then he has been closely involved with efforts to establish an education and research center for Wells Gray Park.
In 1992 the college took over the former Upper Clearwater School for that purpose. He noted that the local Guiding movement, which had been using the school up until then, continues to make use of it today.
Since that time the college and now TRU has documented about 15,000 user-days at the education and research center by over 1,200 different users.
Most of these have been TRU students, but there also have been researchers from three different universities and students from four different universities.
The intent is to leave the existing schoolhouse as it is, respecting its heritage value.
The official opening of the Wells Gray Wilderness Center is planned for next October as part of Wells Gray World Heritage Year – a series of events being held to promote getting UNESCO World Heritage status for the park.
The volcanic features of Wells Gray Park and area are unique, Dickinson said.
Its mountain caribou population is of world importance.
“If the mountain caribou are going to survive anywhere, they’ll survive here,” he said.
The park has cultural significance to Simpcw First Nation, the TRU dean said, pointing to the fight in the 19th Century over caribou hunting rights that gave Battle Mountain its name.
The settlement by European pioneers occurred relatively recently and is well documented.
Wells Gray World Heritage Year will include publication of a book about the park. Six TRU faculty members will act as editors.