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Kokanee — Gold In Mission Creek

by Dave Henshaw
Special to Okanagan Sunday
The Daily Courier
Sunday, October 8, 1989

THERE’S GOLD in Mission Creek — tourism gold. All it will take to dig it out is some foresight. The attraction is the kokanee spawning channel, developed over the past two years.

What started as a Fish and Wildlife Branch project to provide a spawning area for Okanagan Lake kokanee could turn into big tourism dollars.

The spawning run in 1988 attracted some 600 open house visitors.

This month, the day drew about 1,700 people.

Gordon MacKinnon, fisheries habitat technician, says the potential is there to develop a major regional tourist attraction, somewhat like the world famous Adams River sockeye run.

That happens every four years. The Okanagan kokanee (landlocked sockeye) run occurs every year.

How does the Okanagan turn fish into gold?

Dr. Peter Dill of Okanagan College is working on a project to develop the fisheries and wildlife viewing possibilities for Mission Creek Regional Park and adjacent 83-acre Sutherland Hills provincial park.

Dill has been meeting with groups with an interest in the area to get their input. He says it is a good area to interest a lot of people in nature and develop environmental consciousness.

MacKinnon is excited about the possibilities of a low-impact plan for the area.

“The potential is unlimited,” he said. “It’s Kelowna’s Stanley Park.”

With this plan, the Okanagan could be tapping into big dollars, he said. “If we go with it, the potential for funding is really great.”

One possibility would be to have a viewing area built so people could observe spawning fish at eye-level.

“The place could really be promoted,” MacKinnon enthuses, “as an attraction during the run in September-October.”

One promotional idea could be for the City of Kelowna to declare the kokanee its official fish.

The idea is to come up with a low-impact program that could incorporate an information kiosk and trails to view the channel and wildlife in the park.

There are deer and many species of birds in Sutherland Hills.

“The emphasis would be to keep the area as natural as possible,” said MacKinnon. The original idea was to develop the spawning channel aspect, “then we thought we should add wildlife as well.”

Sutherland Hills Park is run by a local parks board headed by Fred Gerlinger. Last week, the board met with Dr. Dill and unanimously supported a low-impact concept.

There are still a few things to be worked out, said Gerlinger, emphasizing “We’d like to keep this place as natural as possible.” The board will have a meeting soon to draft some suggestions.

Local residents have done inventories of the park’s birds, trees and flowers, making for an impressive list of things to see.

The board’s blessing goes a long way to making the government-funded plan a reality, MacKinnon said.

The information kiosk would have panels explaining the kokanee run, the wildlife area and fisheries habitat protection suggestions (such as not dumping pesticides or grass clippings into creeks).

MacKinnon notes the Adams River run attracts tens of thousands of visitors in peak years. Okanagan residents live close to Mission Creek where landlocked sockeye often approaching the same size as ocean fish can readily be viewed.