Land transfer expands Skaha Bluffs park

308 hectares of land added to the Okanagan's world-class climbing destination

Penticton’s reputation as a world-class rock-climbing destination is expected to grow by leaps and bounds with the addition of another 308 hectares of land.

Provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake announced the property transfer to B.C. Parks from the Nature Conservancy of Canada and The Land Conservancy on Saturday.

The land is adjacent to the current provincial park and was purchased from its previous owner for $5.25 million in 2008.

The cost of the property was split between the B.C. government and the two other non-profit agencies and it will now become part of the park.

“I think that this is absolutely incredible, it’s brilliant,” said Russ Turner, founder and president of Skaha Rock Adventures who has more than 30 years experience guiding, instructing and developing outdoor programs.

In fact, it was love at first site for Turner, who has dedicated more than 2,000 hours in the last two decades to creating a premier novice-to-advanced rock-training location.

Prior to that he had spent many years on the road visiting different parts of the continent, but all that ended when he came to the region on an extended visit and experienced what the bluffs had to offer.

“If I got to design the perfect place for someone to learn to climb, this is what I would have created,” he said. “To me, there is no other place I’ve been to anywhere in North America that is a better place to learn to rock climb than this area.”

The location was showcased in all its glory last year with the first Skaha Climbing Festival.

According to Turner, the first year he was in business there were 3,000 user visits to the site and in 2011 that number rose to over 50,000, which is expected to climb in the future as more people learn about it.

“They say you build it and they will come, and they certainly have,” he said. “It would probably be the number two destination area in British Columbia for climbers now.

“We get visitors from all over the map. I have clients from Japan, Europe, Africa who come to take programs.”

So with at least 70 per cent of the park’s users coming from outside the Okanagan, it’s a great economic generator for the community as well, he added.

One the reasons the area is so popular with climbers is the long season, which stretches from the spring to late fall and the climate.

As well, scaling rock cliffs can only be safely done during dry weather, which makes the other locations such as Squamish much more hit and miss.

“It’s also the nature of the rock. The rock lends itself to beginners it’s an easy medium to learn on,” said Turner.

“With this addition I think the Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park will very much serve to protect ecological and recreational values for a long time to come.”

He also feels by having the entire region under the jurisdiction of a single agency (provincial government) it will streamline the future decisions for its use.

Meanwhile Lyndie Hill of the Penticton-based Hoodoo Adventures was also happy with word of the park expansion, and not just for her rock-scaling clientele.

“There really is so much there along with the climbing. There is some mountain biking, and the hiking trails are unbelievable,” she said Tuesday.

“We’re very much in support of the expansion because anything to preserve the area is great.”

According to the environment minister, the land transfer will now allow for better management of its conservation as well as recreation values.

The property contains coniferous forests, riparian areas as well as the rugged terrain and some shrub-steppe grasslands.

The habitat also helps support up to 15 at-risk species including bighorn sheep.