TRU’s Wells Gray research centre upgrades facilities

Donation from Wells Gray Community Forest completes needed funding for project

Thompsons Rivers University’s (TRU) research centre in Wells Gray Park received a generous funding boost that’ll help it upgrade facilities.

The $150,000 donation comes from Wells Gray Community Forest Corporation (WGCFC) and will be used to make the Wells Gray Research and Education Centre accessible all year round.

“For the last 10 years it’s been a project that I’ve taken on with a management group at our university to try and put modern facilities that would allow for really good four-season use, so the park and its values could be explored and taught and researched over those four months of the year,” said Tom Dickinson, Dean of the Faculty of Science at TRU.

“I think it was last year I made a plea to the Wells Gray Community Forest for $150,000 that would put us over the top for what we’d need to build this.”

The Wells Gray Research and Education Centre is made up of property and buildings that used to be the Upper Clearwater School, but has been run by TRU for nearly 30 years. The new expansion adds a 2,300-square-foot building to the site and replaces the former one-room schoolhouse as the main centre.

The new centre will have meeting rooms, a classroom, dining and kitchen space as well as sleeping quarters that will comfortably fit 20 people and is also wheelchair accessible.

“We were always constrained. I know I’ve taken classes up there when it’s 30 below in the winter and it was always pretty rough,” Dickinson said.

He added some of the research focus that could be done from the centre might involve resource extraction and looking at better ways to tackle silviculture as well as an array of various wildlife research and studying the natural organization of ecosystems within Wells Gray Park.

Heather MacLennan, vice-chair of WGCFC, said in a release that the proposal was worthwhile and her group was enthusiastic about providing the funds to help with the upgrades to the facility.

“We believe education is really important and Wells Gray has a lot to offer, education-wise. We fought long and hard to establish a community forest and now the community is reaping the benefits with an education centre that will also attract students from across the province, the country and internationally.”

The cement for the facility was poured in April and in early May the facilities, which had been stored in Kamloops, were moved up to the site where a contractor put it together.

Permits for septic and water are presently being sought and Dickinson said he hopes to visit the site in July and “test drive” the facilities to see if there’s anything he has to make notes for.

“With any luck, we’ll be able to start using it this fall for field trips, but it also depends on how this COVID-19 plays out,” he said.

“There are so many different things you can do in terms of understanding why this area of Wells Gray and this region is as valuable as it is (regarding) protections of the resources associated with it.”

Dickinson also noted the character of the old one-room schoolhouse that was the centre’s main facility, saying it will be left standing and used for lectures and possibly for public education events as well.

The grant from WGCFC also adds to TRU’s Limitless campaign to raise $50 million as the university celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Limitless has now raised $44.8 million for student support, research, capital projects and community-related projects.

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