A 100-hectare park between Dallas and Barnhartvale is classified as dry benchland, but where Heather Toles stood on Sunday it's wet, muddy and alive with insect life.
A spring historically tapped for farming and residential use is the seed for the Dallas-Barnhartvale Nature Park wetland restoration project, which breaks ground today.
From a tangle of forest debris, underbrush and invasive species, the Barnhartvale Horse and Hiker Preservation Society is building - yes, building - a naturally fed, self-sustaining wetland.
The park - with its trailhead off Eliza Road in the area sometimes referred to as "downtown Barnhartvale" - is a natural link between the valley floor in Dallas and the upland forest, rising through silt bluffs and hoodoos.
It's one of several local wetland projects undertaken since 2006 under the direction of Tom Biebighauser, wildlife biologist and wetlands ecologists all the way from Kentucky.
"We're calling it the educational wetland," said Milt Stanley of the restoration committee. "One of the bonuses we have here in Kamloops is these silt bluff areas. What better use to make of it than to restore the wetlands? We're fortunate that we can't do much else with this land, so it's kind of a happy accident it's here."
The restored wetland will provide habitat to accommodate a diverse wildlife population, enhance outdoor recreation and serve as a natural interpretive site for the public.
Biebighauser and a handful of volunteers were in the park Sunday morning for site preparation before contractor Tim Hall rolls in to excavate the marsh.
"It's great to come back to Kamloops, meet old friends and see the wetlands created over the years," said Biebighauser. Since 1982, he's worked on 1,550 wetlands in 20 states and two provinces, including projects at Strawberry Hill and Stud Pasture for Tk'emlups Indian Band, and at Black Diamonds and Tree Flats near Scuitto Lake in Barnhartvale.
Across North America, wetland restoration initiatives have sought to recover the wellsprings of aquatic life, often drained, diverted, dammed or otherwise destroyed in earlier eras, the biologist noted.
"We'll be stair-stepping the wetland down the hill, much like rice paddies. That way we can avoid building a high dam and avoid maintenance."
Invasive plants such as nightshade, thistle and Manitoba maple will make way for reintroduced native species.
Toles and her husband Cliff have built two wetland areas on their Barnhartvale property. They are not mosquito hatcheries; to the contrary, a healthy wetland reduces mosquito populations through natural predation by a healthy diversity of birds and insects.
"Kamloops is part of the B.C. southern Interior, one of the driest regions in Canada, so what we're really doing is making water in a semi-arid area," Biebighauser said.
"I remember you saying in one of our lessons: If you build it, they will come," said Toles, an adviser for the latest project. Along with other volunteers, she's undergone training from Biebighauser and through B.C. Wildlife Federation and the Wetlands Institute.
Formed in 2000, the society stewards two recreational trail networks on grazing leases - the Barnes Lake and Blackwell trails.
"This will be an adventurous outing for young people in the community," Biebighauser said.
"For local schools, they can get up close and personal with nature," Toles added.
Phase 1 of the project is to be completed within a week or so. Phase 2 will bring restoration of the nearby David's Spring site, including provision for equestrian and livestock access. In the third phase, they plan to build an observation deck and add interpretive signs at the site.
Nearby landowners donated the water rights, enabling the project to proceed. All manner of sponsorships and donations have boosted the project, which draws on the society's $45,000 budget. New Gold, for example, is donating native-grass seed and use of a hydro-seeder.
Diane James, one of the volunteers, views the project in a broad social and environmental context.
"I really see a huge struggle going on," she said. "I think many, many people are disconnected from their environment. There's too much city life."
When urbanites retreat into nature, they tend to congregate in campsites with many of their conveniences at hand, she noted. Is it any wonder there is a complacency over deterioration of wild places?
"I am suggesting . . . this wetland, regardless of size, gives the opportunity to go beyond the campsite experience," James added.
For more information or to lend support to the project, visit www.parkfriends.ca.