New park proposal comes before Council

The possible location for a municipal park

The pond behind the Visitor Centre in winter. Come summer, could this be Tumbler Ridge’s newest fishing hole?

Trent Ernst, Editor

In behind the new Visitor Information Centre, in a forested area left untouched by recent fire mitigation measures, is a small pond, less than 100 metres across and not even half that wide. Many people don’t even know it’s there, but its fate has become subject of much discussion.

When the Community Forest was removing beetle kill trees from the area around the pond, it left most of the stand around the pond untouched, proposing the area could be developed into a picnic or even camping area.

Now, high school science teacher Mark Deeley has an idea that would see the area become a stocked fishing pond.

For the last two years, Deeley has been running a unique program with his grade 11 science class. Rather than teaching science using the standard methodologies, he’s been teaching science in the guise of an operating fish farm.

There are no tests in the class, says Deeley. “The kids are building everything from scratch. We want full engagement and ownership from them. It’s about real world skills. They’ll be rewarded for their efforts to learn. The whole idea is if they have different interests and different skills, they’ll be given different tasks. One kid might be working on a computer the entire course, and another kid might be working on construction and plumbing the entire time.”

For the last two years, the class has been raising goldfish, but now, Deeley wants to take it up a notch. He’s proposing raising a catchable fish, possibly rainbow trout, to release in the pond, which is found a few minutes’ walk from the school. “Currently we’re using gold fish, and the only reason we are is because we have no place to put indigenous fish, like rainbow trout or arctic grayling.”

Recently, Deeley went before Council to discuss a proposal regarding the creation of a fish pond for minors. “We’re asking Council to look into the idea of stocking the pond across from the high school,” he says. While he thinks the idea is doable, he and his students need help with the logistics and possibly the legislation around stocking the pond.

The school, he says, does not have the resources to develop the pond as a park, but if the town were to move to develop the pond into, say, a municipal park, he would move towards raising rainbow trout to stock the pond.

If his class could stock the pond, he believes the students would take on more a stewardship role for the environment, which would add an entirely new dimension to the program. “It would be a big benefit for local youth,” he says.

While it sounds like a good idea, there are many questions that need to be answered. The biggest question is where does the water come from (source) and where does it go (outlet)? While it appears that the pond is merely a collection of run-off surface water with no visible outlet stream, this would have to be confirmed.

Deeley says the big concern is keeping the fish in the pond isolated, so that there is no contamination of native populations in nearby waterways. “You have to worry about things like bacteria and cross contamination and bio-security. If the water was draining into, say, our water treatment plant, there would be no problem. But if it drains into Flatbed, we’d have to take a look at that and probably get provincial permission to stock it. However, this is out of my scope of jurisdiction.”

The water quality also needs to be tested to find out if it’s within the parameters needed to support aquatic life. “Fish are very tolerant of a broad range of factors, so the only things we’d really have to worry about is the PH and the O2 levels. The latter can be taken care of with aeration.”

Finally, he says, a study would need to be done on the volume of the pond and amount of natural food it supports to know how many fish could live there. “What is the stocking density? Even if we put in 50 fish, that’s 50 fish kids could catch,” he says. “I’m not suggesting we put in 3000 fish, but somewhere between 50 and 300. You have to look at the amount of natural food provided in the pond, and if there’s not [enough], is someone going to go and throw some feed in there, and how does that affect nitrate levels and phosphate levels.”

He says the nice thing is this is Tumbler Ridge can follow the model of other communities that have done this, such as the City of Kelowna, where the Greenway Pond in Mission Creek Regional Park has been set aside for fishing for kids under 16 only.

“And with the pond being very close to Visitor Centre, I can imagine them telling families ’50 metres over there you can go throw a line in’. You don’t have to drive 50 km to Gwillim Lake; just get out of the truck and walk over there.”

The pond is very small, and not very deep, and, there is a good chance it freezes solid in the winter.

This, says Deeley, is actually a good thing. “It would mean the students would have to stock every year. If there is a fish kill every year, that’s alright. We would have to test those fish for disease, but let’s say something did get by. In winter, the pond freezes and all those fish die, and in spring, you have a clean slate. That’s a big benefit.”

Deeley says there’s also been some discussion about having an outdoor skating rink nearer to the downtown core. He suggests that in winter, the pond could be used as a rink. “If we’ve already got the area developed with trails and a picnic area, fishing in the summer, skating in the winter would be an added bonus.”

Deeley says he’s coming at this from a selfish point of view. “My focus is always going to be on the educational of the students, first and foremost. But to educate my students, I need a hook. I have students who may not come to school every day, but when they started with the fish farm, they started to come to school every day. But raising goldfish only works for so long. But to tell students we’re going to raise rainbow trout right here in town, and then you can catch that rainbow trout two years later, three years later, that’s a big hook. Kids buying into the environment, and stewardship, that hits everything we’re trying to do in this school and in education in this province, 100 percent. It is what we call problem-based learning, where students take on a big project and are solving the problems themselves. They’re taking responsibility for their immediate surroundings; they’re taking ownership of their own town. From an education point of view, I couldn’t ask for a better project.”