By Kate Irwin
A pristine piece of wilderness on the eastern side of Columbia Lake will be preserved for generations to come, thanks to the efforts of the Nature Conservancy of Canada and partners. Before its purchase, the $7.2 million plot of land, known simply as Lot 48, was the only area on the east side of the lake not turned over to conservation.
Now, the ecologically sensitive land, which is of deep spiritual significance to the Ktunaxa First Nation, will be designated a protected area, preventing future development.
On Monday, July 23rd, conservationists, politicians and the public gathered at Lot 48 to celebrate the Nature Conservancy’s newest purchase.
“I can’t believe that this dream is now a reality and we’re standing here celebrating something that has been a deep passion for me,” said an emotional Nancy Newhouse, the Nature Conservancy’s Canadian Rockies program manager. “I’m getting a little choked up … It’s really rewarding to see the final chapter in this land-use dilemma come together as something we can all celebrate.”
Lot 48 has been in and out of the news since 2005, when plans were announced by Fairmont Hot Springs Resort to develop a 630-unit golf resort on the property. After a less-than-warm reaction from local residents and politicians, the Regional District of East Kootenay began to investigate introducing two new bylaws to prevent the plans moving forward.
In September 2006, Fairmont Resort changed hands, and the new owner, Ken Fowler Enterprises, immediately withdrew the application for the multi-million dollar resort on Lot 48.
The property has since reverted to its original owners, the Wilder family of Fairmont Hot Springs, who have been working since 2009 to find a suitable purchaser.
“This is a very, very significant achievement,” said Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, to the crowd at the Lot 48 celebrations. “I want to thank you all for your efforts and vision … We will now see this property preserved for generations of the future.”
With a budget of $7.2 million for the conservation project, fundraising was no small task. Countless individuals and groups stepped forward to pledge money and their support, the Nature Conservancy stated.
Following a final push before the fundraising deadline, in June the group reported that efforts were successful.
“This is an incredible win for the conservation community in British Columbia, and we couldn’t have succeeded without the support of so many partners,” Ms. Newhouse said. “Protecting Lot 48 is essential to maintaining the integrity of the entire east side of the lake forever.”
The final step in the process will be working with the Regional District of East Kootenay to determine the appropriate zoning for the land; either agricultural land or parkland.
Future public access to the site will be discussed once the Nature Conservancy has carried out a full ecological study, said Hillary Page, Stewardship Coordinator for the Canadian Rockies.
“It’s definitely our goal to accommodate the public and make sure they can enjoy the land in the future,” she said. “We will work with the different community groups to ensure everyone’s interests are heard.”