The Allan Brooks Nature Centre is an interpretive centre that offers a peek into the rich natural history of the Okanagan

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre is an interpretive centre that offers a peek into the rich natural history of the Okanagan

Exploring the Commonage on two wheels

The North Okanagan has a wide variety of cycling routes and Moira McColl offers a guide to get you started

Our favourite cycling days are ones with warm sunny weather and great scenery.

We love to take time to explore interesting sites and visit inviting cafes and eateries. Sure, the route could be done in one sweaty hour, but we prefer to savour the experience, taking two or three hours. And there is no place better than the North Okanagan for such indulgent and interesting cycling!

Turning south off Okanagan Landing Road (25th Avenue) at 34th Street and then onto the bike route (33rd Street), we begin our tour of the Commonage. We lean into our pedals to tackle Mission Hill and soon see the north end of Okanagan Lake below us with the green orchards of Bella Vista draped over the surrounding hills.

The hilly grasslands between Okanagan Lake and Kalamalka Lake, about 24,000 acres, were originally intended for use by First Nations and early settlers for common use for pasture, thus the name Commonage.  In 1889 the government drew up a new agreement, taking over the area in return for establishing an Indian reserve on the northwest side of Okanagan Lake.

We pause for a drink of water before heading up the hard-packed gravel road to the Allan Brooks Nature Centre (ABNC) located in an old weather station perched above the thirsty golden hills of late summer. Here the entire North Okanagan stretches out before us with raptors floating above, birds chirping among the grasses and kids scurrying around, intent on their nature studies as part of the nature camps held at the centre.

The ABNC is named after Canada’s own “Audubon.” Capt. Allan C. Brooks, an early Vernon area resident, was an internationally renowned bird and wildlife painter, featured in several editions of National Geographic in the 1920s and ‘30s. We tour the centre and walk along the grassland trail, fascinated with the multitude of birds and other animals found in the area.

The summer schedule is busy with an evening speaker series, movie nights  and astrology nights. I eye the picnic tables, making a mental note to bring visitors up here for a picnic and one of the best valley views.

We bounce down to Mission Road and turn down the Bench Row Road looking over fields of hay and contented cattle, benefactors of the secondary treatment wastewater used to irrigate these fields and 42 acres of forest tree plantation planted in 1988 to study its effect on neutralizing undesirable substances in Vernon’s municipal waste water.  Developed as an alternative to discharging reclaimed water into Okanagan Lake, its success is a subject of local debate.

Intrigued by large growing trays of emerald green seedlings, we turn into the driveway of PRT, a growing service for all commercial tree species grown in Canada. We learn that forestry companies provide the seed which PRT then grows into seedlings during the long frost-free season of the Okanagan. The seedlings, about 25 million per season, are harvested when dormant and stored in local cold storage facilities, and eventually shipped by the forestry companies to where they will be planted.

Before reaching Okanagan Landing Bench Road we meet two horseback riders from Paradise Ranch. We notice they are using unconventional saddles and discover these are Peruvian saddles and the horses are Peruvian Paso horses, the royal horses of the Conquistadors. Started in 1996, Paradise Ranch has become one of the largest and most comprehensive training centres for the breed.

Rather than taking the steep and winding road down to Okanagan Landing we opt for the more gradual paved trail extending from just east of The Seasons community development and down behind Longacre Drive. We continue along Okanagan Avenue and link back onto Okanagan Landing Road with only 15 km clocked but having enjoyed another half day of local discovery.

Moira McColl is a freelance writer and cycling enthusiast in Vernon. This is part of her Urban Wanderer series on cycling in the area, with the hope that it will encourage locals and visitors alike to explore the North Okanagan on two wheels.