As part of the Earth Day activities in Summerland this past weekend, Don Gayton, ecologist and writer, gave a presentation on the Prairie Creek Daylighting Project at the Montessori School and included a walking tour of the portion of the creek being considered for restoration.
“It’s a very constrained creek in many ways,” Gayton explained. “The headwaters of Prairie Creek are basically where the reservoir is.”
Gayton showed a picture of a letter from Mr. Barclay to Mr. Robinson that was written in 1900. Barclay was going to sell his land, which included the land that is now Dale Meadows, and he described it as “3,320 acres of swampland not needing irrigation.”
“By the early 1900s they were in the process of draining this area and creating farmland from it,” Gayton told the audience.
Over the years, much of the stream has been ditched along property lines and diverted through storm sewers under developments and roadways.
“It goes underground and comes out behind the Anglican Church and then goes into a culvert and runs all the way down to Lakeshore Drive,” said Gayton.
The idea to do a restoration project of Prairie Creek has been circulating among Summerland’s environmental community for at least a decade or more, according to Gayton.
The interest in the idea increased after a successful daylighting stream restoration project at Fascieux Creek, through the K.L.O. Middle School playground in Kelowna, which can now be used as a model.
Last year the Okanagan Basin Water Board, with some funding from the District of Summerland, retained a firm to provide a conceptual plan to daylight a 130 metre section of Prairie Creek between the Dale Meadows ball fields and the Giant’s Head School.
“Daylighting is a generic term for when you take a portion of a creek that has been in a culvert or an underground pipe and bring it back to the surface,” Gayton said.
The conceptual plan has been completed and the document can now be used to initiate discussions with the stakeholders and to support funding applications.
“The next step would be an engineering study to determine all the technical issues,” said Gayton. “To go any further we’d have to raise a considerable amount of money to do further studies.”
After his presentation on Saturday, Gayton led the attendees on a walk along the creek behind Giant’s Head School, explaining the envisioned project as they walked.
The creek would be restored to a more natural state, meandering and pooling its way along. It could be a riparian habitat with bulrushes and cattails. The potential is there for an outdoor classroom where children could sit on stumps while learning about the tadpoles, frogs and dragonflies that live in the area.
“I have met with the Parents Advisory Council and the principal of Giant’s Head School,” said Gayton. “We would have to put a security fence up so that little kids would not be at risk of falling into the creek.”
Gayton hesitates to put a timeline on when this project might take place, although he is trying to build some momentum on it.
“The two big things are getting the city on board so that they are okay with what’s going to happen and that it won’t be extra work for them and the second thing is fundraising, which could take a long time,” he said. “This is a complex project, involving many players and many issues, but the bottom line is we are trying to recover a tiny piece of what used to be a massive wetland.”