Once again, September 1 marks the reopening of the BC Parks Belarko Wildlife Viewing Platform. Established as a pilot project in 2010 with the goal of increasing safety for both bears and people, the Platform has become a popular wildlife-viewing destination for both local residents and tourists.
The Platform will be open seven days a week during the month of September, from 7 am to 7 pm, with the possibility of reduced hours later in the month as daylight hours shorten. Hours of operation are subject to change, however, so visitors are encouraged to check the BC Parks website to confirm opening times.
Visitors will notice a few changes this season, and more are to come later in the year. It is hoped that the electrified and cedar rail fence surrounding the Platform will have been upgraded by the September 1 opening date. Later in the fall and in early 2015, when bears are no longer active in the area, further infrastructure changes are planned, including security fencing for the parking lot, a reception gazebo and a reconfigured pathway to increase accessibility for Park visitors who use wheelchairs or who have difficulty walking. On the Platform itself, a covered information kiosk will include BC Parks ecological and Nuxalk Nation cultural displays. There will also be a covered shelter where visitors can view bears protected from rain or hot sun. BC Parks is currently engaged in Calls for Proposals related to these next phases of the project.
As in previous years, the Platform will operate with staffing assistance of local professionals and park rangers from other regions. This year, however, there will also be a training component that will see members of the Nuxalk Nation participating in staffing the platform. This will provide Park visitors with opportunities to learn about the cultural significance of this area to the Nuxalkmc people, in whose traditional territory Tweedsmuir Park and the viewing platform are located.
While BC Parks is encouraging everyone to use the Platform, they are aware that there are other sites along the Atnarko River corridor where people have traditionally gathered to view bears. For public safety and protection of critical bear habitat, some of these areas will be closed to the public from September 1 to October 15, including the Esker Trail from the ‘smokehole’ at Stuie to the DFO fish counting tower. With its important function as a commercial boat launch, the Belarko boat launch area will be off limits to wildlife viewing. These and other sites along the corridor will see enhanced Parks staff presence, with increased patrols and public education to remind visitors that bears have the right-of-way along the Atnarko River.
The fall salmon season is a critical time for bears to feed, undisturbed. With the effects of the 2010 flood upon fish and bear populations still unknown, it is even more important to protect bears during this period. The main objectives of the BC Parks Belarko Wildlife Platform are to reduce the risk of potential injury to Park visitors from bear encounters and to increase the predictability of human behaviour along this section of critical habitat, so that ‘bears can be bears’ and can do what they need to do to prepare for winter hibernation.