Nature Nut: Right in our own backyard

Looking for a supernatural experience? I highly suggest picking up a paddle and heading out on the river.

Looking for a supernatural experience? I highly suggest picking up a paddle and heading out on the river. The Columbia River and Columbia Wetlands are an incredible place to explore, bursting with life, history and natural splendor.

We are extremely fortunate to have the only free-flowing section of the Columbia River left, as well as its birthplace, right here in our backyard. Many people don’t realize that the mighty Columbia River, born from a tiny spring by Canal Flats, is the second largest river by volume in North America, and provides water to over 15 million people. The Columbia is also the most heavily dammed river system in the world with over 450 dams in its basin.

Even more astonishing are the Columbia Wetlands. These ecologically lush wetlands boast recognition as a wetland of international significance defined by the Ramsar Convention and designation as a Wildlife Management Area. The Columbia Wetlands are one of the largest contiguous wetlands left in North America, encompassing the Columbia River for over 180 kilometres.

They are also an essential part of the Pacific Flyway, providing hundreds of thousands of migrating birds a place to rest and replenish reserves on their journeys north and south.

The Columbia Wetlands provide habitat for over 250 bird species and over 50 other wildlife species. Approximately 80 per cent of the ungulate populations in the upper Columbia Valley depend on the wetlands for winter range. The area also provides critical habitat for a significant number of species at risk, including Rubber Boa, Painted Turtle, American Badger, Northern Leopard Frog, Short Eared Owl, and Westslope Cutthroat Trout. Don’t forget your camera and binoculars because eagles, osprey, herons, deer, elk, beavers and bears are a common sight along the way.

But there’s more to this trip! As you bob along with the current, keep your eyes peeled for piers poking up out of the water and on the banks of the river. These are remnants of the docking and refuelling stations that the paddle wheelers began using in the mid 1800s. An obvious example can be found on the south side of the Athalmer Bridge in Invermere. You can see many of these piers in the channel leading up to a tall square construction, the pivot point of an old swinging bridge. This old bridge could move to span the width of the channel, allowing land traffic across the river, or be turned to allow paddle wheelers and barges passage up or downstream.

Kalista has a diploma in Renewable Resource Management and offers environmental education, consulting and technical services; consulting in native plant landscaping, sustainable living and urban homesteading; and interpretive nature tours. To contact her, call 250-270-2440 or email