Riverfront access from park revealed

Rousing the Rabble column by Roy Ronaghan, Nov. 11 Grand Forks Gazette.

A secluded strip of Crown riverfront land along the Kettle River a little over three kilometres east of Gilpin Creek has been one of the best-kept secrets in Boundary Country for many years, but it is no longer a secret.

An in-depth search done by a resident of Grand Forks has revealed that a privately owned 6.44-hectare (15.92-acre) parcel adjacent to the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) does not extend to the high water mark along the Kettle River. In fact, it was found that a portion of the former 594 ha (1,470-acre) Boothman Ranch purchased by the Social Credit government in August 1972 surrounds the private property.

The riverfront parcel is now part of the 788-hectare (1,970-acre) Gilpin Grasslands Provincial Park, a Class A park created by BC Parks in May 2007.

Access to the Kettle River from the TCT was denied for years because signs erected by the landowner suggested that the private property extends from the Trans Canada Trail to the river. New signage will  correct the misconception.

Maps obtained from the Land Titles Office in Kamloops indicate that W. Humphreys BCLS surveyed the parcel in April 1942 for the Columbia and Western Railway Company. It is approximately 1.5 kilometres long, 65 metres wide at its widest point and 25 metres wide at its narrowest and covers an area of about six hectares (15 acres).

The land was surveyed in 1942 to deliberately enable easy access from its extreme eastern and western ends from the large Boothman property. The access points are not signed and the boundary between the park and private land is not marked.

The parcel is important because it provides a rest stop for kayakers or an entry point for anglers and picnickers but there are no signs to indicate that the area is open to the public. 

According to a Management Direction Statement for the Gilpin Grasslands Provincial Park published in September 2009, “The park has significant grassland and wildlife values, including several provincially at risk grassland ecological communities containing numerous provincially red-and blue-listed plant and animal species. Approximately four kilometres of the park’s southern boundary include riparian frontage along the Kettle River.”

A Management Direction Statement published in 2007 states that people from the Sinixt and Okanagan nations frequented the Gilpin Grasslands park area at one time. There are five known archeological sites within the park boundary. These sites are associated with debris or waste from past human activity such as tool or weapon making. There are also depressions that could represent the locations of storage pits or partially buried shelter lodges.

It is easy to imagine that the riverfront area was a stopping place for First Nations people as they travelled though the area. There is also evidence that explorers, traders and early settlers passed through the area occupied by the park. The construction of Highway 3 obliterated most of the Dewdney Trail but remnants of it can still be found in the park.

At one time, R.R. Gilpin (1861-1953) lived on the parkland. He built a ranch house adjacent to Gilpin Creek and operated a customs office for travellers coming from the United States. Only remnants of the house remain but the customs office now stands on the grounds of gallery 2, the former courthouse in Grand Forks. It was restored by the Grand Forks Rotary Club several years ago.

Residents and visitors are fortunate to have the Gilpin Grasslands Park nearby and that its riverfront portion has been identified for their enjoyment.

Though cows can now be found in the park during the fall of each year, it is the fond hope of a growing number of residents that government regulations with regard to grazing on the grasslands will change and the land will revert to being habitat for the ungulates that once roamed the grassy slopes in large numbers.