Ron Watteyne is almost at a loss for words when trying to describe how meaningful the Bowron Lakes chain is to the paddlers who are lucky enough to live near it.
“It’s a real gem,” the president of the Blackwater Paddlers manages to say after thinking about it for a moment. “I don’t know if there’s any place like it in the world, where you can start in one place and paddle for 116 km and end up back where you started from.”
The chain consists of nine lakes that are connected by streams or trails, and the whole thing is in the shape of a skewed rectangle, so paddlers finish in the same place they started when they undertake the trip.
At this year’s Blackwater Paddlers annual wrap-up, which will take place at Shiraoi House this Thursday (Nov. 14) at 7 p.m., Jeff Dinsdale will delve into the history of the chain and the surrounding park for what is sure to be an enthralled audience.
“I’m going to be starting with the First Nations and occupation of the Bowrons, which goes back probably 4,000 years,” he says. “And I’m going to be working through right up to the present.”
Dinsdale, like many who have been lucky enough to paddle the Bowron Lake chain, is enamoured by the area and grateful to be able to live so near.
“It’s clearly one of the top paddling destinations in the world,” he says. “There’s no question about it. Often, when you’re in the Bowron, you’re talking to people that have flown from Europe. They’ve come from all over the world to paddle there, and it takes us an hour to drive there.”
He says there are countless reasons as to why it is so special.
“It’s got so many features that we either aren’t aware of or take for granted,” he offers.
“The interior rainforest that runs right through the heart of the Bowron is spectacular habitat for wildlife, especially caribou,” he says.
He also mentions an impressive feat of nature that takes place in the chain every year.
“It’s the site of the longest migration for sockeye salmon in North America. They leave the ocean, swim up the Fraser to the mouth of the Bowron River — which is east of Prince George — then they swim all the way up the Bowron River and the length of Bowron Lake before they swim to the upper Bowron River and lay their eggs in the headwaters.”
In addition to the ample wildlife, the scenery is nothing to scoff at either.
“The Cariboo Mountains run all through the southern part of the Bowron Provincial Park,” Dinsdale says, “and there’s snow caps all year round.
“Most people living in Quesnel don’t realize that an hour away is such a spectacular environment.”
Dinsdale points out when the area became a provincial park in 1961, it was done so with a clear mandate to maintain a wilderness paddling destination.
“They established approximately 50 campsites around the chain and put in basic amenities, so there are pit toilets and fire rings and also special bear caches for safety,” he says.
“So that contains all of the human activity to these isolated areas that are set up to provide these services, so in the process, you can retain the beauty and nature of the area. People aren’t just camping here, there and everywhere, lighting fires in the bush and everything.”
Before the area became a provincial park, it was greatly affected by the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s and was a major hunting area that sportsmen would travel to from far and wide.
“Hunting lodges were established as early as 1912,” Dinsdale says, “and hunters came from all over the world.
“That was one of the reasons that the area was turned into a wildlife preserve in 1925. It was being decimated by the hunters.”
Dinsdale will be discussing all of this and more, while showing maps and pictures to detail the extensive changes the park has undergone.
“I’m hoping it’ll get us thinking about where we go from here with the Bowron,” he says.
Entry to the special event will be by donation, and there will be snacks and refreshments on offer.