Its headwaters some five miles east of Allison Pass in Manning Park, the Similkameen River provides one of the most spectacularly scenic drives in Canada, if not North America.
The route traverses dramatic climate changes, from the semi-rainforest of the North Cascades to the northernmost vestiges of the great Sonoran Desert.
From Manning Park, Highway 3 follows the river, then its canyon, to Princeton where, at river’s edge the meandering stream offers up such treasures as Bromley Rock, in summer a magical place where with the scent of pines filling the air, you can swim in a deep hole or bask on a wonderful sandy beach.
Further on the landscape expands into sagebrush, and along the way you can trace the remnants of the Kettle Valley Railway. Stopping just before Keremeos there’s an old wooden bridge reminiscent of the covered bridges that are treasured far to the east of us.
And at a pullout near the bridge on hot days, the heat and strength of the Ashnola wind that blows out of the valley to the south is incredible. But be careful because you’ve just entered rattlesnake country.
Yet at this same place mountain goats and their kids are often seen crossing the highway from the river back to the craggy reaches that rim the route. And in the Ashnola itself, herds of bighorn sheep graze the mountain meadows.
There is a legend that somewhere in the vicinity is the fabled “Spanish Mound,” a buried collection of armour and gear, and possibly bodies, that came north with a band of conquistadors. According to the story, the aboriginal residents didn’t appreciate this possibly antagonistic incursion of their lands and dispatched what may have British Columbia’s first tourists, covering evidence of their demise with a mound of dirt.
The highway continues through ranchlands, the orchards giving way to vineyards scattered along river’s banks until the route rises through sagebrush to Richter Pass. It was here, not many years ago, that British Columbians rose up against a proposed hydro-electric dam at Shanker’s Bend near Oroville in Washington State.
The reservoir created by that dam would have flooded well into B.C., drowning much of the remarkable, and unique, environmental zone within the easternmost reaches of the Similkameen Valley.
Our protests, and that of the B.C. government, caused the Americans to shelve the project.
However, British Columbia won’t have a leg to stand on if, as proposed by Fortis Generation, a division of Fortis BC, a new dam is built on the Similkameen a few kilometres south of Princeton.
How can we object to the Americans revisiting their plans, when we go ahead with our own on the same river? That Fortis’ dam is in a canyon, its reservoir flooding an area relatively out of sight (and thus out of mind?), an area that is scarred by a vast copper mine, will have little impact on U.S. decision makers – what’s good for the gander is good for the goose, though I’m sure south of the border they’ll portray themselves as the gander.
To be clear, Fortis claims its proposal does not impact the aforementioned spectacular scenery, though I have to wonder what eventual effect controlled water flows will have on the ecology of a desert climate that begins not too far to the east of its dam.
The Similkameen east of the highway-side falls is considered, I’ve been informed, a popular paddling route and for the most part its canyon provides not only white water challenge but wonderful vistas. Haven’t paddled it myself, though like the original premise of the movie Deliverance, I might just do it before the route is flooded.
My biggest concern, however, is that this dam is intended to generate enough power for only about 15,000 homes.
Do we stem the flow of a currently wild (at least in B.C) river and possibly encourage the Americans to reenergize their dam plans for such a small increase in private power generation, particularly when BC Hydro could generate vastly more power by simply upgrading its turbines in existing mega-dams on rivers throughout B.C.?